The 2015 Philadelphia Eagles

I honestly (and only partially tongue-in-cheek) can’t wait for the inevitable 30 for 30 documentary on the 2015 Eagles offseason.  To be honest, if the Birds had traded up for Marcus Mariota in the draft, you could make a really good case for it being docu-worthy. But, in the end, we had just a run-of-the-mill offseason that consisted of a front office coup d’etat, a complete roster shake-up, racist-accusation-eliciting trades, standing ovations for a Our Lord and Savior disguised as a 4th-string H-back…I mean, quarterback…, and a couple of head-turning preseason performances. Are you ready for some football?!?

So, let us try and leave all the noise of the offseason behind us and focus on what we have on our football team right now. And, with the bottom line simply being wins and losses – what can we expect from this team this year?  I think one of the best references is to look at what they had last year and the circumstances surrounding that season and compare it to what they have right now.  Last year’s team was a 10-win team, so an improved roster/circumstances would lend one to think that 10 wins is the floor. Right?  So, I wanted to analyze each position group as they compare to last year’s and how deep they are.  But I also wanted to throw in an “upside” factor. In other words, I (like Chip and Sam Hinkie) believe that if you ain’t winning championships, you ain’t winning anything.  So, I want to look at this team in that light – the championship or bust mentality. Let’s call it an elite factor.

So, here we go – position by position.  The differences will be analyzed based on overall (the most likely outcome), depth/health risk (how well-equipped they are to handle injuries/issues), and elite factor (if everything goes perfectly, just how good they can be).

Quarterbacks
2014:  Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley
2015:  Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley/Tim Tebow

Overall:  Upgrade
We might as well start at the most important position in sports, right?  So, it’s abundantly clear that the Foles-for-Bradford move was either (a) a direct attempt to gather assets to go get Mariota, or (b) a blatant Plan B in case he didn’t get Mariota.  Or, most likely, both.  But, the bottom line is that Sam Bradford has all of the things that we loved about Nick Foles plus he is a much better quarterback.  The only question is his health – which is a big one – but let’s not pretend like Foles was Lou Gehrig or anything.  He has missed games due to injury in all 3 of his years in the NFL and missed half the season last year.  So, even if you only give me Bradford for 8 games, it’s still an upgrade because the other 8 are Sanchez again (who could be slightly better than last year with a year under his belt in the system – though, I’m not holding my breath).  We are not talking “good” or “bad” in a vacuum, we are just talking better or worse than last year, and it is hard to argue that the position isn’t upgraded over last year.

Depth/Health Risk:  Slight Downgrade
There is no denying the fact that Bradford has torn his ACL twice in his 5-year career, so it would be disingenuous to say that he is not more of an injury risk than Foles.  However, let me reiterate the fact that Foles isn’t exactly an iron man.  Out of the 35 games in which he was supposed to be the Eagles starting QB, Foles has missed 11 of them (31%) because of injury.  Even with Bradford missing the entire season last year, the percentage of teams starts that he has missed is only marginally higher (31 of 80, or 39%).

Elite Factor:  Major Upgrade
Can anyone really argue that 16 healthy games of Sam Bradford isn’t a lot more tantalizing than 16 healthy games of Nick Foles?  Or, am I too enamored with the big armed #1 pick and am forgetting the 27/2 season just two years ago?  That’s possible, but I still think that the Bradford ceiling is worlds better than the Foles ceiling.

Running Backs
2014:  LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk
2015:  DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner/Ryan Mostert

Overall:  Upgrade
Chip knows what he wants, and he goes and gets it.  And, what he wants in a RB is not exactly easy to find.  He wants that one-cut runner that hits the hole, hits it hard, and gets up, hands it to the ref and runs back the line to do it again.  But, he ALSO wants his RBs to be able to catch the ball of the backfield.  And, there are very few one-cut runners who are also excellent pass-catchers.  And, Chip went and got two of them in Murray and Mathews (incidentally, Frank Gore is another one of these unicorns and was also heavily pursued by the Chipper).  So, no matter who you slice it or how much you love Shady McCoy, I think that this running back corps is considerably better than it was last year.  Which is incredible because they traded, arguably, the league’s best RB for a linebacker.  But, they signed the reigning rushing champ in Murray and a former first-round pick with tantalizing ability in Mathews – both of whom fit this scheme a LOT better than McCoy (which has gotten a lot of play, but I don’t think it can be overstated).  Personally, I was growing tired of 2nd-and-12.  I think that the reduced number of 3-and-outs (which KILL this defense because a 3-and-out with this offense takes about 45 seconds) is well worth giving up the big-play ability of Shady.  Oh, and there’s this guy named Sproles that is still around, also, who can slip into the #3 slot and maybe save his legs a little for November and December.

Depth/Health Risk:  Slight Upgrade
This is a tough one to really evaluate because on one hand, they are CLEARLY deeper this year from the sheer fact that they have another guy.  Sproles was the clear #2 guy last year (he racked up more carries last year, at the age of 31, than any year since his first year in New Orleans) and seemed to really slow down by the end of the year.  Now, he’s the clear #3 guy, which should really help his productivity all year.  But – and this is a big but – they traded McCoy, one of the most durable RBs in the league with almost 700 touches in the past two seasons, for Murray, who had an injury-plagued career until last year when he led all runner in carries by an enormous number, and Mathews, who hasn’t been able to stay healthy in any of his five seasons in San Diego.  Overall, I really think that the extra body is enough to call this an upgrade, but that can, obviously, go out the window pretty quickly.

Elite Factor:  Upgrade
Shady’s elite factor is about as high as any single RB in the league.  If all goes well for Shady in a given year, he is probably the best in the league.  But, honestly, let us dream for a minute about the ceiling for this RB corps.  I am salivating at the thought of 16 healthy games of Murray, Mathews, and Sproles, running defenses into the ground with this uptempo hard-hitting ground attack.

Wide Receivers
2014:  Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Jeff Maehl, Brad Smith
2015:  Nelson Agholor, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Miles Austin, Seyi Ajirotutu/Jeff Maehl/Rasheed Bailey 

Overall:  Even
Just the replacement of Maclin with the rookie Agholor and the over-the-hill veteran Austin is not why I am calling this a push.  Please don’t take this as any disrespect to Maclin’s ability.  He’s a very, very good receiver (not worth the money Coach Reid paid him in KC, but very good nonetheless).  And, I am not as bullish as some on the immediate returns from Agholor or much of a return from Austin.  But, where I am bullish – and where I believe they can make up for losing Maclin – is in the improvement of second-year WRs Matthews and, to a lesser degree, Huff.  The biggest jump for WRs is from Year One to Year Two, and I think Matthews is ready to take that leap into stardom.  Huff should jump to a pretty solid contributor.  Throw in a very polished rookie with explosive run-after-the-catch ability in Agholor and I think this group can come awfully close to making up for the loss of Maclin with the outside shot of being better, as a unit.

Depth/Health Risk:  Major Upgrade
But, either way, I really think the floor on this group is a LOT higher than it was a year ago.  Especially considering Maclin has already suffered a major second major injury, so who knows if he’ll make it through the year.  With the exception of Huff (and Austin), no one has shown any health issues in college or the pros.  Plus, the depth is much improved here this year – to the point where Jeff Maehl (the 5th wideout last year) is a total longshot to even make this roster.

 Elite Factor:  Slight Downgrade
I do have to say, though, that as good as I think Matthews might be, the loss of Maclin does take away slightly from the ceiling of this group.  There is a non-zero chance that Jeremy Maclin is a top-5 WR in the league this year (VERY unlikely, but possible), but I don’t think that’s possible for anyone on the 2015 roster.

Tight Ends
2014:  Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, James Casey, Trey Burton
2015:  Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton/Eric Tomlinson

Overall:  Slight Upgrade
This is pretty much the same unit only likely to only be 3 instead of 4 (meaning room for an extra RB, most likely), which is very rare for such a tumultuous offseason.  But, I think another year for our two TEs is – in aggregate – a good thing.  Ertz is on the upswing and only improving (I would have left out the “slight” if Ertz was fully healthy), while Celek is the opposite, but shouldn’t lose too much as a predominantly blocking TE going into his 9th season.  On the whole, assuming Ertz is healthy and ready to go at some point in the early season, this group should be better because Ertz is ready to break out.

Depth/Health Risk:  Slight Downgrade
Ertz is already hurt, so there is a chance of it lingering, and Celek being a year older is probably not great for his durability.  And, with Casey gone, they lose a little depth, though I think that can be offset by the rookie that they brought in (and will presumably have on the practice squad), Eric Tomlinson.  (NOTE:  Justin Tukes and Andrew Gleichert are also longshots to make the team/practice squad, but I like Tomlinson the best of the bunch and I can’t imagine they keep more than one of them).

Elite Factor:  Slight Upgrade
Before the injury, I might say that the elite factor is definitely higher this year because I really did think that Ertz was poised for a big year.  That’s still a possibility, though the ceiling might be a bit lower with the late start he’s getting and lack of work with Bradford.  But, would anyone be surprised if he racks up 500+ receiving yards in the second half of the season?

Offensive Tackles
2014:  Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Dennis Kelly, Wade Smith
2015:  Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Dennis Kelly

Overall:  Even
The O-tackles remain the same.  And, that is awesome because Jason Peters is an absolute monster.  Phillymag did a great job breaking down some of the plays in the preseason game against the Ravens.  That post showed the TD runs by Mathews and Murray (2nd and 4th plays broken down).  Check out the beast that is #71 on each play.  On the Mathews TD, Peters chipped the DE and then annihilated the LB clearing the way for an easy TD.  Then, on the Murray TD, he pushed the 300-lb DT all the way into the end zone like he was on skates.  Stories of the Jason Peters demise are not exaggerated – they’re fabricated.  He’s still incredible and is on his way to Canton.  And, Lane Johnson, now in his 3rd year, should only be getting better on the other side.

Depth/Health Risk:  Even
The extra year on Peters does equate to a slightly higher injury risk, but he has been really durable in his career, so it’s hard to think he won’t be again this year.  And, any added injury risk is more than negated by the fact that Lane Johnson missed 4 games due to PED suspension last year, whereas this year, we should be able to pencil him in for 16.  The one issue here, though, is that if either of these guys go down, there isn’t a great option.  Last year, Herremans slid over to RT when Johnson was out, but he’s gone, and I wouldn’t have the same comfort level with Barbre or Kelly or Tobin stepping in.  But, again, 4 extra games of Johnson kind of makes it all a wash.

Elite Factor:  Slight Upgrade
We hear a lot about which Eagle is going to make the leap this year from good to great.  We hear about Josh Huff (I’m a little leery), Zach Ertz (more likely), and my pick to explode – Benny Logan (more on him later), but no one is talking about Lane Johnson.  And, I get it because O-tackle isn’t sexy, but now entering his 3rd year, he is certainly a candidate to take the next step in his progression and maybe even enter the realm of stardom.  I am not counting on it, but it is certainly not impossible that he becomes a borderline elite RT, right?

Interior O-Linemen
2014:  Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans, Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner, David Molk
2015:  Jason Kelce, Allen Barbre, Andrew Gardner, John Moffitt, Matt Tobin, Julian Vandervelde/David Molk/Brett Boyko/Malcolm Bunche 

Overall:  Slight Downgrade
This is probably the biggest question mark on the team right now, and I am not overly concerned, to be honest.  I think the downgrade seems a lot bigger because of the losses of Herremans and Mathis, who were both veterans and (particularly Herremans) provided some real leadership and veteran savvy on the inside of that line.  But, let’s not forget that last year’s team only had Herremans missed 8 games (plus 4 of his healthy games were at tackle), Mathis missed 7, and Kelce missed 4.  So, the 3 interior starting linemen only made 25 of a possible 48 starts across the 3 positions inside.  And, that doesn’t even include the 16 lost games for next guy up, Barbre.  So, while you can make the case (rather easily) that the overall talent level has diminished from last year, it is not hard to overstate just how much they lost.  And, with Herremans and Mathis another year older, who knows how many more games they’d miss this year.  I am cautiously optimistic that a fully-healthy Kelce can lead the guard combo of Barbre and Gardner to at least what we got last year inside.  But, to be fair, you have to consider it at least a slight downgrade if you are looking at the most likely scenario.

Depth/Health Risk:  Upgrade
However, if we are talking depth/injury risk, I can’t imagine that – even after jettisoning your two starting guard – the depth and injury issues will be anything close to what they were last year.  The interior of the line was a revolving door last year due to a ridiculous rash of injuries (to older players who are now gone), and you have to think that there will be more continuity this year, even if you would argue that the talent is diminished.

Elite Factor:  Downgrade
All the optimistic arguments I made above cannot discount the fact that, at their best, Barbre and Gardner (or, Moffitt, if we’re talking “best-case”) are anywhere near what Herremans and Mathis would be if everything came together.  Herremans and Mathis, when healthy and at their best – even at this age – would clearly be better than anything the 2015 team has.

Defensive Tackles
2014:  Benny Logan, Beau Allen, Brandon Bair
2015:  Benny Logan, Beau Allen, Brandon Bair

Overall:  Slight Upgrade
Same players a year older – that is a good thing when the players in question are in their 2nd and 3rd years in the league.  I am convinced that Benny Logan is poised for a monster breakout season, but even if he takes the standard progressive step, he is at the point in his career where each year should be better than the one before.  Allen and Bair are both probably good enough to start on a couple teams in this league and are clearly top-notch second- and third-stringers.  This position is in really good shape.

Depth/Health Risk:  Even
They had no real injury problems here last year, as all 3 guys played in all 16 games.  That is not something we should be counting on, but with the exception of a major injury to Logan, I think that the progression of these three guys makes the group as a whole more capable to handle a minor injury.  So, while we’re not counting on 48 games played between these three, I think the step-down options are only stronger with another year under their belts.

Elite Factor:  Upgrade
It took all my willpower not to say “major upgrade” here just because I am so bullish on Logan this year.  But, we can’t exactly expect the leap to stardom before it happens.  But, keep an eye on just how disruptive he is in the middle of the line this year.  And, if he does take that leap – watch out – because offenses will have nightmares trying to figure out how to find enough bodies to block Logan and Cox without giving guys like Barwin, Graham, and Curry free runs off the edge.

Defensive Ends
2014:  Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry
2015:  Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Taylor Hart/Brian Mihalik/Travis Raciti

Overall:  Slight Upgrade
Like the DTs, this is pretty much the same bunch, except that Taylor Hart is healthy now.  It would be unfair to expect Cox and Thornton to get any better since they pretty incredible last year, but the addition of a healthy Hart and another year in the system for the two emerging stars can only be a good thing.

Depth/Health Risk:  Slight Upgrade
Again, like the tackles, we got 16 games each from Cox, Thornton, and Curry last year.  Can’t expect that kind of health every year, but with Hart in the mix and a couple intriguing practice squad options (including 7th-round pick and giant of a man, Mihalik, and interesting undrafted guy, Raciti), the talent pool is only increasing here.

Elite Factor:  Even
Like I said above, it would be unfair to expect these guys to hit even higher levels than they did last year.  Personally, I think Fletcher Cox cemented himself as one of the best D-linemen in the league last year, so I already think he was elite.  And, Ced Thornton was pretty close to elite and I would take that kind of production again this year in a heartbeat.  There is no need for this group to get better – just give me another 2014, please.

Outside Linebackers
2014:  Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Marcus Smith II, Bryan Braman
2015:  Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Marcus Smith II, Bryan Braman, Brad Jones

Overall:  Downgrade
Trent Cole, who actually acquitted himself pretty well after some early growing pains as a stand-up LB, is gone to Indy.  And, no one is here to replace him, so everyone just moves up a spot.  I am a little concerned about Brandon Graham keeping anywhere near his production as he goes from about 60% of the snaps to almost 100%.  That is a big step.  If I had to bet, I would say that he will do well, but no one really knows for sure, and that is a little concerning.  And, that is where the loss of Cole (and, for the record, I agreed with letting him walk for the money, but he is a big loss) will show up the most – not in transfer of Cole’s snaps to Graham (hell, that is probably a slight upgrade), but in the transfer of Graham’s snaps to whomever…

Depth/Health Risk:  Major Downgrade
And, then there is the depth question.  This is probably the scariest part of the team when you think about injury.  If Graham or, god forbid, Barwin were to go down, is Marcus Smith II your starting OLB?  It is scary.  I like Braman, but he’s more of a special-teamer and think he’d be incredibly exposed playing every down.  And, Brad Jones is a nice versatile player (who should make the team), but is more of an inside guy.  The thing I keep coming back to is – in an emergency – moving Kendricks (or Kiko) to the outside, but that would be potentially weakening two positions.  Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that and that Barwin and Graham stay healthy and MS2 gives us relatively useful specialty snaps.

Elite Factor:  Slight Downgrade
If all goes perfectly, I think last year’s group would have a slightly higher ceiling than this year’s.  I still think Cole is a very valuable player and person to this team, and he’s gone.  And, I do think that Graham might be an upgrade to Cole, but I don’t think there’s any chance that the 3rd OLB gives even remotely what Graham gave in that role last year.  The two starters could be better, but the group as a whole has a lower ceiling after the loss of the franchise’s all-time sack leader.

Inside Linebackers
2014:  DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Casey Matthews, Emmanuel Acho
2015:  Kiko Alonso, DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, Emmanuel Acho, Najee Goode

Overall: Major Upgrade
I am not sure people fully realize just how great Kiko Alonso was as a rookie with the Bills in 2013.  And, by all accounts, he looks fully healthy and ready to go.  If he’s anywhere near his 2013 form, he steps in right away as the best ILB on this team, which is a pretty nice compliment considering how good I think Ryans and Kendricks are.  But, adding Alonso is absolutely huge.  Now, instead of Casey Matthews as the #3, it’s a guy who had a good argument for the Pro Bowl last year in Kendricks.  I am a little bearish on Ryans at 31 years old coming off a second Achilles tear, but it’s nowhere near as big an issue now with the talent and depth they have at this position

Depth/Health Risk:  Major Upgrade
This might be the biggest upgrade of any category of any position.  They went from WOEFULLY thin last year (Casey Matthews made ELEVEN freaking starts) to embarrassingly deep.  So deep, in fact, that BOTH Emmanuel Acho and Najee Goode are in jeopardy of not making the team.  Aside from the 3 studs, the Birds also added 3rd-round pick, Jordan Hicks and Goode is back from a season-ending injury last year in the opener.  And, I didn’t even list Brad Jones up top because I think he’s more likely to slide over to the middle because of the lack of depth there.  Both Acho and Goode are really solid LBs who could probably start in this league for a handful of teams.  And, both may be cut.  Wow.

Elite Factor:  Major Upgrade
If Alonso and Ryans are fully healthy, this group can rival any group of ILBs in the league.  Throw in Kendricks – a borderline Pro Bowler last year who, at 24, is only getting better – and you have yourself a stable of studs.

Cornerbacks
2014:  Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, Jaylen Watkins
2015:  Byron Maxwell, Nolan Carroll, Eric Rowe, E.J. Biggers, Jaylen Watkins, Randall Evans/Denzell Rice/Marc Anthony

Overall:  Major Upgrade
I am actually not as high on the upgrade from Williams to Maxwell as most people are.  I think that Cary Williams got a bad rap in this town (legitimately) for his idiotic comments under the excuse of “keeping it real.”  Ya, Cary, you are just keeping it real – we aren’t judging you because you have the balls to speak your mind; we’re judging you on what you REALLY FEEL.  I get it – your daughter’s dance recital is more important than OTAs, but do you have to flaunt it like you don’t care (I won’t get into the sconces)?  And, then to complain publically that you’re being worked too hard after blowing several coverages?  Anyway, I don’t want to digress here…  The point is that I think Cary Williams was an adequate corner not a total debacle like you might believe listening to most Eagles fans.  And, I don’t think Maxwell is a savior.  I think he’s very good, but not an elite corner.  That said, even with those opinions, there is no doubt that he is a significant upgrade over Williams on that side.  And, then there’s the other side.  As much as I defend Williams, there is absolutely NO defense for Bradley Fletcher.  He was an out-and-out disaster.  And, now that he’s replaced by Nolan Carroll (who, irritatingly, was on the roster LAST YEAR, yet no one thought to put him in there even when Fletcher was routinely costing us ballgames), which I am excited about.  I think Carroll is a decent corner and should be an enormous upgrade from the debacle that was Bradley Fletcher.  Yes, the Boykin trade hurts because he was a pretty good nickel corner, but I think he was a little overrated, to be honest.  I don’t think there will be all that significant of a downgrade there from Boykin to Rowe or Biggers (whom I love as a nickel or dimeback) or Watkins.

Depth/Health Risk:  Upgrade
Hard to imagine that the depth is better after losing your top 3 corners from a year ago and losing a potentially valuable piece (JaCorey Shepherd) to a season-ending injury in training camp.  But, it is.  For one, they obviously added Maxwell, who will play every defensive snap for which he is healthy.  And, then they added Eric Rowe with their 2nd-round pick, who should see significant time either on the outside or in the slot.  They also brought in, in a very underrated move, a solid, veteran corner, who has started at various points in each of his 5 seasons in the league (3 with Tampa and the last 2 with Washington).  Also new in the fold are 6th-round pick from K-State, Randall Evans, and undrafted but promising, Denzell Rice, who was a Coastal Carolina Chanticleer last year.  Add in another year of seasoning for last year’s a raw 4th-rounder, Jaylen Watkins, and the presumptive starter, Nolan Carroll, and there is a lot of depth here.

Elite Factor:  Major Upgrade
Bradley Fletcher was abysmal with little upside of anything else.  Cary Williams probably played as well as could have been expected – he is what he is – not quite good enough to be a #1, but a little too mouthy to be anything but.  But, his ceiling is about what we saw the past 2 years.  And while I don’t think Maxwell is elite, he certainly could be.  There is a nonzero chance that he turns into a Top 5 to 10 corner in this league, and there was NO chance that anyone on last year’s roster became that.  I also think that the ceiling for Carroll is higher than it was for Fletcher, and guys like Rowe and Watkins have major breakout potential.  The loss of Boykin does hurt because he also has some serious upside, but I think we’re fine here and a 4th-round pick is a really nice return on a guy who was out the door for nothing 6 months from now.

Safeties
2014:  Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Chris Maragos, Chris Prosinski
2015:  Malcolm Jenkins, Walter Thurmond, Ed Reynolds, Chris Maragos/Chris Prosinski

Overall:  Upgrade
While I tried to be conservative on most of these evaluations, I have to admit a bit of a bias here because I thought Nate Allen (seemingly a pretty good dude) was a terrible safety.  So, I would consider any replacement for him an upgrade – even a converted nickel corner, which is exactly what Walter Thurmond is.  But, I actually think Thurmond is a nice addition to the secondary at safety because his corner experience will enable Billy Davis to do a lot of different things with the same personnel.  Plus, he comes with some swagger, a willingness to drop the hammer, and a real ability to ballhawk.  For what he may lack in experience at the position, he should more than make up for his playmaking ability in the defensive backfield.  It would be hard to imagine Jenkins having a better year than he had last year (he may even take a small step back), but I think, as a whole, our pair of safeties this year is better than the pair that played a year ago.

Depth/Health Risk:  Slight Upgrade
The main changes are subbing Thurmond for Allen and Reynolds for Wolff.  While Allen tended to be nicked up from time to time, he was generally reliable.  Thurmond, on the other hand, has had a couple major injuries, including a season-ending injury last year in Week 2.  And, we all know about how brittle Earl Wolff is, but Ed Reynolds is coming off of a rookie season that was lost entirely to injury.  So, while the talent level has clearly increased, the injury risk has probably increased a little, as well.  However, the reason I consider this a slight up-grade is because of the safety experience of Biggers, Rowe (3 years in college as a safety), and Watkins.  So, if something does happen to Thurmond or – ugh – Jenkins, it might not be as dire as it otherwise seems because I could see any of those three corners sliding right into the starting safety spot and not having to rely on Reynolds to start.

Elite Factor:  Major Upgrade
Again, this might be colored by my somewhat exaggerated feelings about Nate Allen, but I am pretty excited about the upside of this pair of safeties.  I think if Thurmond can take to the position comfortably, he adds an incredible presence to the backend of this defense that we haven’t had in a while.  He loves to chase the ball and should come up with a couple INTs, and he also isn’t afraid to lower the boom.  If he can avoid big mistakes, I think he could be a really, really good safety.  And, I never thought anything of the sort about Mr. Allen.

BOTTOM LINE

Here’s a snapshot look at the changes:

Foles -> Bradford
McCoy -> Murray & Mathews
Maclin -> Agholor
Herremans & Mathis -> Barbre & Gardner/Moffitt
Cole -> Alonso (different positions in the linebacking corps, so you could say Cole is unreplaced and Alonso is “pure profit”)
Williams, Fletcher & Boykin -> Maxwell, Rowe & Biggers
Allen -> Thurmond

In my opinion, the QB, RB, CB, and S changes are SLAM DUNK upgrades.  The Kiko for Cole swap is more complicated because, while Kiko is clearly the better player, the position scarcity at OLB and depth at ILB make it harder to judge, but the talent is better.  Losing Maclin hurts, but adding Agholor helps mitigate that, as well as the potential emergence of second-year WRs Matthews and Huff.  And, the two guards leaving is probably a downgrade, but they were expensive, aging, and injury-prone, so they weren’t guaranteed to be major performers anyway.  So, the changes seem like a huge net-positive.

And, as for the holdovers (as few as there are), they are obviously not the same players as they were a year ago.  In a football life, a year older can run the gamut from really good to really bad.  And, with this group, which is generally pretty young, and this system/culture, which should only improve with more familiarity, I think another year is another overall net-positive.  I think another year of improvement is a no-brainer expectation for a bunch of core guys like Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff (23 years old), Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, and Zach Ertz (24), and Bennie Logan and Lane Johnson (25) – all of whom have fewer than 4 years experience in the league should still be ascending talents.  In fact, the only main guys for whom another year might be a negative are Jason Peters (33), Darren Sproles (32), DeMeco Ryans (31), and Brent Celek (30), but with the exception of our future Hall of Fame left tackle, these guys all have replacements either ready to go or have already taken their spots.

Okay, what about the schedule difference?  Well, last year the schedule featured non-divisional road games at Indy, San Fran, Arizona, Houston, and Green Bay.  Houston was the only game in which they weren’t a decided underdog.  Throw in their home underdog game with Seattle and the game at Dallas, and the Eagles were an underdog at least 6 times last year.  This year their non-divisional road games are Atlanta, NY Jets, Carolina, Detroit, and New England.  With the exception of that game at Foxborough, I think they will likely be favored in every one of these games.  And, their home games are incredibly manageable with New Orleans, Miami, Tampa, Buffalo, and Arizona.  Honestly, I only see two games where the Eagles won’t be favored – at New England (which is on 10 days’ rest) and at Dallas (14 days rest off the bye).  The schedule is WORLDS easier than last year.

So, the additions are better than the subtractions, and the holdovers should mostly benefit greatly from another year of seasoning and experience.  And, the schedule looks to be incredibly softer this year (though, obviously, a lot can change with that – it always does).  And, this off of a 10-win season?!?

The sky’s the limit, folks, at least that’s what the analysis says.

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BSB’s 2015 Sixers Draft Guide

I started this last year with a list of the players I liked or didn’t like in the draft, and it seemed to turn out pretty well. But, I must give the caveat that I am a MUCH bigger fan of the college game than the pro game, and the two games are very different. So, all of these opinions are based upon what I saw in college and what I have read since. So, all of these takes will be seen through the prism of the college game (or what I have heard in the case of the international players). While I cannot claim an extensive track record on predicting who can make the jump, I did pretty well last year – picking out sleepers like K.J. McDaniels and Jordan Clarkson and calling for the struggles of Doug McDermott, Gary Harris, and Tyler Ennis. And, since the Sixers own basically the entire second round, it should be really interesting to see how they play it. Anyway, here goes my takes on the potential draft choices tonight.

POSSIBLY IN PLAY FOR THE SIXERS AT #3

Karl-Anthony Towns
I have to admit, I was an Okafor guy for a very long time. I thought that Towns was terrific, but Okafor was better. I was WRONG. Towns is a TOTAL stud and well worth the #1 pick – which he will be tonight. He can do everything you need. He has no weaknesses and plenty of strengths. All that said, I do not see him being a top-10 NBA player, but he is well worth the #1 pick because he is 6’11” with a good handle, a great shooting touch (including almost 80% from the line), excellent passing ability, and elite rebounding and shotblocking instincts. Just writing this paragraph makes me depressed that the Sixers didn’t get the #1 pick. He’s that good.

Jahlil Okafor
People have really soured on Okafor recently, and I get it. He is not a great rebounder; he is pretty bad from the free throw line; and, he could be scary bad defensively at times. But, is all of that enough to completely discount the fact that this is – arguably – the best low-post scorer to enter the league, maybe since Hakeem? He is agile and quick. He has terrific hands and a very soft touch around the basket. And, at 19 years old, he already has a full arsenal of low-post moves. He is also an excellent passer, a smart player, and seemingly a really good guy. Yes, there are some things to be scared of about him, but I would take the over on 22 for his career scoring average. And, the other argument about how the NBA is going small and quick may have some validity, but let’s pump the brakes on that for a second. People say that Golden State forced Cleveland to “go small.” What does that mean – they were forced to take Timofey Mozgov off the floor? Wow – really forced their hands on that one. If Cleveland had Okafor, the narrative would have been about how the Cavs “forced Golden State to go big.”

D’Angelo Russell
I have to be honest here – I watched a TON of D’Angelo Russell at Ohio State, and I have question marks about his game translating to quite the level some think it might. That does not mean that I do not want him in a Sixers uniform (if Towns isn’t there, I think he’s the one I want them to draft). And, it does not mean that I do not think he has a chance to really, really good. I am just saying that everyone out there who is saying that Russell is a sure-fire superstar at the next level is choosing to ignore some of the legitimate question marks about his game. First and foremost, he is not – by any stretch – an elite athlete. Now, that is clearly not a deal-breaker, and I usually hate when that torpedos someone’s draft stock because we have recently seen several examples of marginal athletes becoming superstars on the wing (James Harden, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, etc.), but lacking elite athleticism certainly lowers your floor. Guys like Russell Westbrook, John Wall, and Derrick Rose have a lot more margin for error and can still be great despite lacking some seemingly requisite skills. I also – and this is partially-related to a lack of elite athleticism – have always had some serious question marks about Russell’s ability on the defensive end, and I think this is being overlooked at every turn (and why I believe the reports that Hinkie is not sold on Russell at #3). And, one more question mark – as good as he was at Ohio State (and he was AWESOME), he never seemed to have that “killer instinct” to me. And, maybe I am just looking at his smoothness and relatively quiet demeanor as an indication of inconsistency (which is what I hated that people did to Wiggins last year), and if so, then forgive me. Now, on to the good things (I guess this has to be the longest paragraph, since he’s most likely going to be our new favorite Sixer). Only a freshman (and a relatively lightly-recruited one at that) and yet this dude had some of the best court vision, poise, and on-court leadership that I have seen in all my years of basketball fandom. It honestly looked, at times, like the game was in slow motion for Russell. He saw plays happening before anyone else on the court and, combined with a natural passing ability, was an incredible playmaker. He also has a really good jumpshot. I have heard several people, including the great Fran Fraschilla, compare his jumper to that of Steph Curry. That seems like a ridiculous comparison to me, but Franny has forgotten more basketball than I will ever know, so maybe it is true. Either way, the dude can shoot. And, that isn’t his only way to score the ball. He is an excellent driver with a solid mid-range game of runners and floaters. He is also a willing and able rebounder with good size. People say he might translate as a 2-guard at the NBA, but I completely disagree. I think he is a point guard through and through, and I would love to hitch my wagon to his offensive game. I just worry about the other end of the floor a little bit. Alright, now I know I have to shorten the rest of these…sorry, folks.

Emmanuel Mudiay
The point guard battle at the top of this draft is fascinating because they are both so incredibly different (caveat: I have not seen a lot of Mudiay, as he went overseas to play this year, but I have seen him some and have a pretty good sense of who he is). Also at 6’5″, think of Mudiay as the polar opposite of Russell in just about every other way. While Russell is a bit slight and not remarkably athletic, Mudiay is big, strong, and insanely athletic. Russell may struggle to guard on the perimeter, but Mudiay will get up in people’s faces and lock them down. Both are decent in the open court, but Russell as more of a heady playmaker, while Mudiay is a jet. He goes to the basket hard, jumps through the roof, and finishes well around the hoop. However, he is nowhere near the shooter Russell is and is nowhere near as secure with the ball. That said, he is, by all accounts, a terrific kid with a strong work ethic. Both are good rebounders, but for different reasons. Russell seems to know where to be, while Mudiay just seems to go up and over people. If Russell has the ceiling of James Harden, Mudiay has the ceiling of Russell Westbrook. I think I have come around in the Russell vs. Mudiay debate to actually favor Russell for the Sixers at this point, I am still holding firm to my love of Mudiay and think he is going to be very good in the Association.

Kristaps Porzingis
Man, I wish the Sixers were able to get that #6 pick in this draft because I am salivating over what they could have done with two top-6 picks this year. Oh well, I guess we have to settle for #3 this year and FOUR first-rounders next year. Anyway, the Porzingis rumors are coming hot and heavy, and for good reason. The upside on this guy is incredible. They just don’t make humans like Kristaps Porzingis very often. He is quick and agile with a good handle and jumpshot. Oh, and by the way, he is 7’2″. Yep…SEVEN-TWO. He blocks shots on one end and hits threes on the other. I have never seen the dude play, but the scouting reports are absolutely sensational. On offense, he is great in transition and off the dribble with the potential to be an elite outside shooter. And, on defense, he can guard multiple positions with the potential to be an elite shotblocker. Really the only question is – can we really believe any of this?!? And, then the additional question for the Sixers is – do you believe that he does not want to play in Philly? And, if not, to what lengths is he willing to go to avoid it? Will he simply stay overseas if the Sixers draft him? That is quite a risk…

Mario Hezonja
I think it is incredibly unlikely – even for the unpredictable Hinkie – that he reaches for Hezonja, but he does have an affinity for internationals, so there is a chance. I know very little about Hezonja, but he sounds like he could be really good. Apparently, he’s a very good athlete with legitmate range on his jumpshot. He also sounds like he is insanely cocky and just a bad dude. I hope they don’t get cute and take him.

Justise Winslow
Like Hezonja, it is hard to imagine Hinkie reaching for Winslow at #3, but I do think there is a very outside chance that he is in play here. No one else is in play at all. Winslow is a do-it-all kind of player, who is going to make some NBA fanbase VERY happy. And, even though his stock is skyrocketing right now, I might still be higher on him than most. People talk about Okafor and Tyus Jones (for good reason) as carrying Duke to the title, but Winslow had just as much an impact on that team – if not more – than either of the other two more celebrated freshmen. His jumper is a little shaky, but still solid, and he can get to the basket. He also is a willing passer and a strong rebounder. But, his real strength is on the defensive end. If you forced me to pick who, from this draft, would be the NBA defender in five years not named Willie Cauley-Stein, I would say Justise Winslow.

NOT REALLY IN PLAY UNLESS THE SIXERS TRADE WAY UP (or down…ugh)

Stanley Johnson
I am shocked that Stanley Johnson is not in play for the Sixers, but it is pretty clear that Johnson may be slipping out of the Top 10. Now, to be fair, there is no way that he is one of the three best players in the draft, so he should not be in play for the Sixers at #3, but I really don’t understand all the criticism of Johnson. Everything I saw from him at Arizona tells me that he will be a really solid player at the next level. He plays incredibly hard and is easily one of the best all-around defenders in this draft. He isn’t a great athlete, but all the criticisms of his athleticism seem to go way overboard to me. He looked like a pretty good athlete to me in the Pac-12. He is not a great shooter, but not a terrible one either. He will likely never be an NBA All-Star, but it would not surprise me in the least to see Johnson as a major contributor to a very good NBA team. Someone will be happy with this pick tonight.

Myles Turner
The NBA is littered with the carcasses of the careers of guys like Myles Turner. He has such tantalizing size and skills that it is hard for anyone to look at him and not see a superstar. But, then you look at his production and, other than the 2.6 blocks per game, nothing jumps off the page. And, even further, you look and you see injury concerns. I think this guy could be special, but doubts about heart or health should raise serious concerns, and I have doubts about both of them for Turner.

Willie Cauley-Stein
I love Cauley-Stein and think he is going to make a pretty solid pro. He’s a weird dude with almost no offensive game, but he might be, literally, the best defensive player I have ever seen on the college level. Literally. He is an elite shotblocker right now, and he can go out and guard the perimeter or run the floor. He is fun to watch, and I am gonna miss him at the college level.

Devin Booker
Talk about a quick-riser up the charts, Devin Booker arrived in the NBA draft at the perfect time. Watching the Warriors shoot their way to 67 wins and an NBA title did wonders for guys like Booker, who are basically pure jumpshooters. He is also a smart player (son of one of my all-time favorite college players, Melvin Booker from Missouri), who is a pretty solid defender. As the best shooter in the draft, he only needed to show adequate athleticism to be considered a mid-first rounder, but he tested a lot better than you would think in watching him, so I think he’s a bonafied lottery pick. I am rooting for him – he is a fun player to watch.

Trey Lyles
Might as well continue with that RIDICULOUS Kentucky team that, somehow, did not win the national championship. And, what is interesting is that I knew I was a fan of that UK team (normally, I am NOT), but I didn’t know why. Now, in looking at each individual player, I realize why. They had a bunch of likeable guys, who were really fun to watch. Lyles is another one. All year, as I watched that team, I kept thinking that Lyles was the one whose “stock” was most affected by the lack of playing time and exposure. If Lyles had gone to Louisville (his second choice) or Indiana (his home school), he would have been a featured part of the team – possibly either team’s best player – and could be looking at some sort of national awards or top-5 lottery status. Maybe not, but he certainly has that ability. He is 6’10” with really strong perimeter skills, including a solid jumpshot, smart passing skills, and good handle. I think he has the ability to really guard on the other end, though the scouts seem to disagree with that assessment. I like Lyles a lot and think he’s a bit of a sleeper (if that’s possible for the lottery pick).

Kelly Oubre
I am not in love with Oubre, but if he falls to the mid-teens, he should be scooped up pretty quickly and that team should be happy with the upside that he has. He is a scorer, who is a capable defender, though could use a few more pounds on his frame. The only real concern – and it’s a big one – is just how INCREDIBLY bad he was for about a month or so at Kansas. Like, really, really bad. Like couldn’t-stay-on-the-court bad. That makes me very concerned about him between the ears, but the physical ability it there.

Sam Dekker
I feel like I am liking a lot more guys than I did last year, but I think that just goes to the depth of this draft. Well, here is someone that I do NOT love, at all. Everyone seems to be falling in love with Dekker, and I have no idea why. I have watched a LOT of Dekker over the past three years, and I just don’t see why everyone is in love with this kid. Yes, he is incredibly athletic and plays hard, but was somehow still a pretty poor defender both on the perimeter and on the block and a below-average rebounder. How is that possible when a guy with elite athleticism plays hard? I also think that people saw him hit like 87 threes against Kentucky and think that he was this great shooter. Well, that is not true. He was a streaky shooter – at best. While he has decent ball skills, he is not all that great of a passer. And, then there is the issue of position – what is he? A three, I guess, but is he guarding threes in the NBA? Is he scoring on threes in the NBA? I am just at a loss as to what Dekker actually can do.

Frank Kaminsky
As much as I dislike Dekker, I do not feel at all the same about his Badger teammate, Frank Kaminsky. I think Kaminsky does have transferrable skills to the next level, and I think he will make a decent NBA player. First of all, he is 7 feet tall. Second of all, he is a decent outside shooter who can also create his own shot off the dribble. And, everyone just thinks he was this 7-foot shooter. That is so untrue. He lived in the paint and developed a wide array of post moves that are highly successful (and transferrable) because of his great footwork and soft touch. He will really struggle to guard in the NBA, which might limit his playing time (and career longevity), but he can score at any level of basketball.

LATE FIRST ROUND POSSIBILITIES IF THE SIXERS TRADE UP
The Sixers actually have 5 second-round picks – 1/6 of the entire round. They are #35, 37, 47, 58, and 60. I can’t imagine that they will bring in 6 players to the roster this year. Some of these second-rounders could be trade chips or international stashes. But, there is some talent down here in the second round

Cameron Payne
My biggest sleeper in this draft is not really a sleeper any more because the word is getting out that Cam Payne can flat-out play. A couple months ago, I actually advocated that my perfect situation would be for the Sixers to take the best player available in the first even if it was a big man and then grab Payne in the second. But, that dream is over because (a) the Sixers have the 3rd pick and the two bigs will likely be gone and (b) the league has found out about Payne. But, this skinny, baby-faced point guard from the Ohio Valley Conference can do it all. And, my favorite part is that he combines an incredible basketball intelligence with the heart of a lion. He is my favorite player in this draft, and it’s a shame that he won’t be a Sixer.

Montrezl Harrell
While the stock of Payne and Portis are is rising, Harrell’s is slipping a bit. Earlier, I would have said that there is no way he slips into the second round, but his lack of size for a big and skill for a wing seems to be turning NBA GMs away. I still think he has a lot to offer. He is built like a tank with incredible athletic ability, and he plays insanely hard on every possession, but there are legitimate questions as to where he fits at the next level. 6’8″ power forwards without much of a perimeter game are an endangered species these days.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
It is hard for me to judge RHJ objectively because he spurned Temple in recruiting, but it is hard to fault him for going to Arizona. He is a sensational athlete, who could be an elite defender at the next leve. He won’t be a go-to scorer at any point, but the Sixers should run, not walk, to the podium if he is still there at 35 (which is HIGHLY unlikely).

POSSIBLE CHANCE OF BEING AVAILABLE EARLY IN THE 2ND

Bobby Portis
Maybe my second-favorite player in this draft, after Cam Payne, Portis was sensational at Arkansas. He is fun to watch with his size and skill and absolutely incredible energy with which he plays. If you believe in college play having any translation, then you believe that Bobby Portis is going to be a solid NBA rotation player. I don’t think he’s going to slip, but if the Sixers could somehow grab him for a relatively affordable price, I would be a very, VERY happy man.

Terry Rozier
No thanks. I know that he is an elite athlete and a solid defender, but I don’t like guards who aren’t “smart.” The same reason I didn’t like Elfrid Payton last year (though, I look wrong about that, so take it for what it’s worth) is why I don’t like Rozier this year. He turns the ball over a LOT and commits silly fouls on the defensive end. He is just not the kind of guy I want on my team.

R.J. Hunter
Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE mid- and low-major college basketball, so you would think that I would be in love Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter. And, I do like him, but I don’t love him. People will just look at his numbers and see him in the NCAA Tournament (he had “The Shot” of the tournament this year when his dad fell off his stool) and think he’s a total stud. Then they will see that he’s 6’6″ with a 6″11″ wingspan and think that he can totally translate to the next level like another small-school shooter that happened to win the NBA MVP this year. But, as someone who actually watched some of his regular season Sun Belt games over the past three years, let me tell you that I am not sure about him. He was pretty much everything for GA State, but also disappeared at times. He didn’t look like a guy who was just so much better than everyone else in that league. He looked like a guy how took a LOT OF SHOTS. I mean he is 6’6″ and plays on the perimeter. Do you know how many Sun Belt guards are even bigger than 6’2″? Not many. Which means he was facing a smaller guy every single night and still shot 39% from the floor and 30% from three-point range. He also committed 77 turnovers this year and was not the primary ballhandler (the point position was held down by former Kentucky starter Ryan Harrow and former Louisville 6th-man, Kevin Ware). So, while I think Hunter may be a decent shooter, I saw a lot more of his warts than the people who just look at the numbers and watched the NCAA Tournament. He was a bit of an underwhelming superstar.

Tyus Jones
You should probably just skip my evaluation of Tyus Jones because I am a college hoops junkie, and this guy was the perfect college point guard. He was smart and poised. He always made the right pass and would drain jumpers if left alone. He was lights-out from the free throw line and completely bought-in on defense. And, he is that proverbial “winner,” which has become a cliche, but I don’t care, I still think it is a good way to describe someone when it applies. I really hope that there is a place for a guy that in the NBA, but he also appears to be the exact spot where the divide between the college game and NBA game hits the hardest, so I will withhold any more praise for a great college point guard.

Jerian Grant
I am not a huge fan of Grant’s potential at the next level. If the Sixers land a PG at #3, then I would look elsewhere from Grant even if he happens to slip all the way to #35. As the older brother of the Sixers Jerami Grant, Jerian is essentially a finished product – and that product looks like a borderline NBA player, at best.

Delon Wright
Grant and Wright are pretty much connected in a lot of ways. They both have NBA bloodlines. They are both seniors (though Wright played two years at a Junior College) and fully-developed 23-year olds. They both were the heart and souls of really good college teams this year. But, to me, I like one a LOT better than the other. As you can read above, I am only lukewarm on Grant, but I LOVE Delon Wright’s game. He is a pretty poor shooter and only a so-so athlete, which will probably make my praise for him look silly in a couple years, but anyone who has played the game or just enjoys the nuances of basketball, will love the way he goes about his business. He is quick, smart, and has incredible court awareness. While he did look to score at Utah (and succeed), he is an incredible passer. And, what I love about his offensive game is that he draws a TON of fouls and makes his free throws. He made 303 free throws in two years at Utah. That is incredible. He is also a really solid and aggressive defender who loves to pressure the ball. I know the NBA needs shooters – and Wright isn’t one – but I do love the rest of his game.

Kevon Looney
I see the NBA’s fascination with the very raw big man from UCLA, but I have some serious questions. The talent is there, for sure, but he is so raw and appeared to me to be rather meek at UCLA. Apparently, he has been showing scouts a really versatile game in workouts (outside shooting, ballhandling, and passing), but to be honest, I saw him play quite a bit in college and never really saw any of that. It’s certainly possible that I missed it, and if so, he’s a better prospect than I give him credit for, but I can only say what I saw. I did see a VERY instictual rebounder with clear physical traits. Another year in college probably would have done wonders for his readiness for the next level, but right now, he seems to me to be a rather risky gamble for only moderate reward potential. In other words, there is a greater chance of him being out of the league in five years than ever making an All-Star team.

Rashad Vaughn
Like Looney, Vaughn is another freshman who could have VERY MUCH benefitted from another year in school. And, like Looney, he is immensely gifted from a physical standpoint. But, again like Looney, he is a pretty big gamble, from what I can tell. But, completely unlike Looney, no one has probably ever described Vaughn as “meek.” The dude is a flat-out volume scorer. He is quick and aggressive and fearless. And, at 6’5″ with elite quickness and athleticism, he is a handful to guard. The problem is that I saw a TON of turnovers, poor defensive effort, and not exactly those intangible “leadership” qualities. He was on a UNLV team that wasn’t supposed to be that bad, but were terrible, and he didn’t seem to care all that much. Personally, I would pass on Vaughn unless he slipped to the Sixers and a lot of these other nice pieces were off the board.

Justin Anderson
I like Anderson and think that he has pretty much everything you might want in a basketball player. He has size, strength, leaping ability, and is a really smart dude who knows the game. He also has a decent jumpshot (when open) and good footwork in the paint. He is a strong rebounder and defender. He’s quicker than he looks, which isn’t saying much because he doesn’t look quick at all. But, for some reason he never really “popped” at UVA. Maybe it was the slowwwwww offensive pace. Maybe it was the total focus on defense. Maybe it was his constant array of injuries (which is a concern, by the way). But, Anderson just never seemed like a star in college, and while you aren’t looking for an NBA star in the late-first, early-second, I am a little concerned about him even producing all that much. That said, he certainly has a TON of ability and could be really good, so it wouldn’t be the worst roll of the dice.

COULD DEFINITELY BE IN PLAY WITH ONE OF THE SIXERS 97 EARLY SECOND-ROUND PICKS
Chris McCullough
McCullough SCREAMS Sam Hinkie. Not only has our man taken Syracuse players in each of his first two drafts (MCW two years ago and Jerami Grant last year), but he also is not afraid at all of risking a total waste of a pick (particularly those with injury concerns) for a potential franchise-changer. And, we ALL know that he is not clearly not afraid of picking a guy who might miss a whole year due to injury. Well, that is the likely story with McCullough. He tore his ACL in January is likely won’t play at all this year. BUT…he has lottery talent, for sure. I have serious concerns about his “want-to,” but I have absolutely NO concerns about his “can.” The dude is a flat-out stud. He moves like a guard, but is comfortable in the post on either end of the floor. He stands at 6’9″ with a 7’3″ wingspan and is incredibly athletic. From what we saw in 3 months of college ball, he looked like an incredible shotblocker from the PF position as well as a plus-rebounder. I would LOVE it if the Sixers were able to nab him at some point tonight because there’s a chance he is a total bust, but a chance that he is a legit starting PF in the NBA. And, you rarely get those as late as he is going to go.

Joseph Young
Young is one of those already-finished-products. He was the Player of the Year in the Pac-12 last year and completely deserved it. While I have some questions about his ability on the defensive end, there is no question that the dude can flat-out score. He has decent size (listed at 6’2″, but I swear he seems to play bigger than that) and a lights-out shooting stroke. He can also beat you off the dribble. I am not sure he will ever do enough other things to warrant starter’s minutes in the NBA, but there’s no doubt that he can be a double-digit scorer tomorrow.

Jarell Martin
Stay in school, big boy. I am not going to pretend to know everyone’s personal situations and the reasons for which they make these major life decisions, but simply in a basketball sense, Jarell Martin would have been MUCH better suited with another year in the SEC. He is a beast on the defensive end and on the glass, but he is so incredibly raw offensively (with a TON of potential) that could have been refined at the college level. Now, he’s probably destined to be a bit of a liability offensively for his career because why would anyone give him chances to score in the NBA. He could have been a go-to guy at LSU again this year (even with a strong returning frontcourt and next year’s #1 pick coming in). He has the ability to be a good inside/outside offensive player, but he needs to work at it. But, in the end, he will be paid by some NBA team next year because he is a ridiculous athlete who is really fun to watch and salivating from a development standpoint. I doubt he’ll slip to the Sixers in the second round, and I’m not sure I would trade up for him, but if he’s still sitting there at #35, I wouldn’t mind taking a shot at all on him. He does have serious upside.

Anthony Brown
I’m gonna be honest here, I’m not gonna say I watched a ton of Stanford this year, but I did see them maybe a half-dozen times, and I know I watched them a lot over the past 4 years. And, yet, I am not sure I ever remember thinking – man, that Anthony Brown is good. I sure remember Chasson Randle, who was CLEARLY the best player on that team, but apparently, he’s nowhere to be found in any of these mock drafts. So, I don’t really know what to say about Anthony Brown here. If the scouts like him, then maybe he was just overshadowed. But, I can tell you, as a college hoops fan, there is only one player on Stanford that I would even think had a shot at the NBA, and it ain’t Brown.

Christian Wood
I have seen mock drafts with him in the mid-first round, and I have NO IDEA why. I mean he is a ridiculously good shotblocker, but is that all we need to be to make an NBA roster any more? The answer is probably yes, and if the Sixers get him at #35 or later, I guess it’s a good pick, but coming from a fan of the college game, this guy was not really a very good college player.

WILL LIKELY BE AVAILABLE WHENEVER…

Olivier Hanlon
Now, he WAS a very good college player. I was surprised when he declared for the draft, but he was pretty awesome for 3 years at BC. He doesn’t seem like he would have a very translatable game (and a pretty poor defender), but the dude can FLAT-OUT score.

Dakari Johnson
Who knows? We didn’t get to see all that much of Johnson against first-line opponents or for extended periods because of the limited minutes of the Kentucky roster. But, he’s pretty talented and a complete LOAD in the middle at both ends. He’s a solid defender and decent rebounder with agile feet and good hands. Sounds like an NBA player to me, but what do I know?

Rakeem Christmas
Another Syracuse player, so Hinkie might be eyeing him up. He’s got great size and athletic ability. He’s a very good low-post defender, so there’s probably a place for him in the NBA. But, honestly, as a fan of the college game, he was remarkably unremarkable at the ‘Cuse, so I don’t know…

Cliff Alexander
A total bust at Kansas, as he was supposed to do for Kansas what Okafor and Towns did at Duke and Kentucky this year. But, he just never got it going and was then shutdown due to eligibility issues. He may have stayed at Kansas another year if everything was on the up and up (which could have REALLY helped him), but now he’s just a huge, stud athlete with a very raw game (and seemingly very little desire to get better). This situation kind of reminds me of when they first started opening the floodgates for high schoolers to enter the draft and teams had to draft the Kwame Browns just in case they were passing on Dwight Howard. But, while Kwame Brown at #1 is terrible, Dwight Howard at #37 isn’t. So, I guess he’s worth a shot in the second, right?

J.P. Tokoto
I am very surprised that he left early because he never seemed all that good at UNC. But, he certainly has some transferrable traits – particularly, the ability to guard multiple positions at a very high level. But, his offensive game wasn’t even good in the ACC, so he’s going to be a career liability on the offensive end.

The Harrison Twins
They suck.

GUYS WHOM I REALLY LIKE AND SHOULD BE AVAILABLE WHENEVER

Vince Hunter
Chad Ford has Hunter going to the Sixers at #37, which made me incredibly excited. This dude was a total STUD at UTEP. He’s one of those guys that is going to leave me scratching my head when he never makes it. I know he’s probably simply too small to play PF in the NBA and not skilled enough to play SF. I get that, but seriously, this dude was incredible in Conference USA. I guess it just shows how big of a jump it really is.

Jordan Mickey
Another guy whom I just LOVED at the college level. This dude was so dominant that it is hard to understand how he’s a second-round draft prospect. Again, I get it. I know that all these dudes that shock me are the same – they are just too small to dominant underneath like they did in college, but this was the SEC! He is an absolute animal on the glass and as a shotblocker. He’s not a great offensive player, but he’s not terrible either. He’s just a monster around the rim – and those guys are fun to watch.

Norman Powell
Looked like a professional basketball player at UCLA. Did all the little things, stepped up when you needed a basket, defended whomever you needed him to defend. A real “glue guy” and I think he can be that at the next level, too. The problem is that he’s not really all that good at anything in particular, so he might not be long for the league if he can’t develop something to hang his hat on.

Tyler Harvey
When you lead the nation in scoring, you’re doing something right. Yes, that Eastern Washington team ran a ridiculously fast (and fun) tempo, but Harvey was a lights-out bomber who runs the floor really well. I honestly don’t see his game translating (he plays no defense, doesn’t rebound at all, and is a mediocre passer, at best). But, I hope he makes it because he’s fun to watch.

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A Defense of Ruben Amaro, Jr.

albeit maybe a pretty back-handed one…

First of all, let us get two things straight before I embark on a potentially ill-fated defense of our embattled GM.  One, I think Ruben seems like a pretty good guy, and I have a lot of respect for him, personally.  Two, I think Ruben is – and always has been – a pretty terrible GM.  I think it is long past the time when we should be finding a replacement, and the fact that he is still guiding this ship is terrifying to me.  HOWEVER…

I think that the current accusations and frustrations with Ruben are totally off-base and inconsistent.  And, it is the second part that bothers me the most.  Because the same people that seem to question Sam Hinkie and Chip Kelly are ripping Ruben.  It seems to me that the most often-cited wishes of the Hinkie/Kelly regimes are exactly how Ruben has been operating for years.  Let me explain…

COMPLAINT:  Sam Hinkie and Chip Kelly Do Not Talk Enough to the Fans
Ruben is always available.  He has a weekly spot on Angelo’s morning show.  He is on with Gargano and even Missinelli (who has absolutely no qualms about ripping him up cross-examination style).  He gives written journalists pretty extensive access and candid remarks.  In fact, the most recent remarks about the “fans not getting it” is probably the exact reason why Hinkie and Kelly avoid the media.  Because sometimes you are forced to tell the truth (and, let’s be honest – anyone who thinks that Ruben is dumb for leaving Aaron Nola in the minors after 20 starts really doesn’t “get it,” so Ruben is right), and telling the truth sometimes is the worst thing you can do.

COMPLAINT:  Hinkie and Kelly Are Too Quick to Unload Home-Grown Stars
What do we keep hearing over and over about why people are sour on Hinkie and Kelly?  It always comes back to Michael Carter-Williams, DeSean Jackson, and LeSean McCoy.  Hinkie thought MCW’s upside was limited, and Kelly thought that Jackson and McCoy were overpaid and not “on board.”  If you think they’re crazy, then obviously you love the fact that RAJ decided to keep Howard, Utley, and Rollins around for so long, right?  I mean we have to keep our stars, right?

So, if you don’t like what Hinkie and Kelly are doing, then you are intellectually dishonest with yourself if you don’t, at least, respect the job Ruben is doing.

And, then there are the unfair complaints about Ruben himself.

COMPLAINT:  Why Hasn’t Ruben Traded Cole Hamels Yet?
Ruben is out there, looking for offers.  Now, this isn’t a Marlon Byrd situation at last year’s trade deadline, which was a total debacle.  This is an ELITE pitcher in his prime with an expensive, but not outlandish and controllable contract.  I am happy that Ruben is waiting to get the best return.  What he is risking is a potential injury, but that risk, in my opinion, WELL worth taking if the alternative is getting 60 cents on the dollar.  Remember the Cliff Lee trade?  That was probably Ruben’s second-biggest blunder (slightly behind the Ryan Howard contract extension and well ahead of the Hunter Pence trade and Jonathan Papelbon signing).  Ruben traded away an elite left-handed pitcher in his prime for a pile of nothing.  If that happens with Hamels, then this rebuilding won’t be a phase, it could be an era.  This whole rebuild is counting on maximizing the value of a guy like Hamels.  He has to hold out.

COMPLAINT:  Why Isn’t Ruben Bringing Up Guys Like Nola?
This is the most recent one – and, frankly, I don’t get it.  What the hell is the point in bringing up a guy who was pitching for LSU this time LAST YEAR.  He has 20 – yes, TWENTY – professional starts.  Why in the world should he be up in the majors for a team that’s going to lose 90+ games.  If the argument is that the team is going nowhere this year, then they should ABSOLUTELY NOT bring him up.  If you told me that they were a mid-rotation starter away from contending, then maybe you take the chance.  But, why chance stunting the growth (and add service time) to your most promising pitching prospect just because “the fans want to see him pitch.”  Buy an f’ing Reading ticket, then, people – come on!  If you are one of the people that want Nola up here now, then Ruben was talking about you when he said “you don’t get it.”  And, he was right.

COMPLAINT:  How Did Ruben Lead a Fall This Far This Fast?
This one is fair and relevant.  Amaro took the reins of a franchise that was in the incredible position of having great home-grown talent, a rabid fanbase that was selling out every night, and owners who were making money hand-over-fist and willing to spend it to stay at the top.  He had a core of position players that had already won and built a pitching staff that could rival any in the history of the game.  How did he screw this up so bad?  Now, again, I think a lot of it was his fault (giving Howard the HUGE extension 2.5 years before he had to…trading Cliff Lee for next to nothing…COMPLETELY ignoring any analytics – this is my biggest gripe, actually), but a lot of it was not his fault.  First of all, they had the best team in baseball – and the best team in franchise history – in 2011.  They could have – and maybe should have – won the World Series in any of 2009, 2010, or 2011.  They built a team around relatively young and durable starting pitchers like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, who got old very fast and missed a lot more time than their track records would have indicated.  In fact, look at the core of those teams and how unpredictable the falls were.  Who would have thought that Brad Lidge would go from perfect closer in 2008 to a 7.21 ERA in 2009 to out of baseball in 2012?  Who would have thought that Ryan Howard would go from 6 straight years of top-10 MVP finishes, averaging 44 HRs per season, including 58 in a single season.  To hitting a TOTAL of 48 HRs from 2012 through 2014?  Who would have known that, in order to keep former platoon OF, Jayson Werth, the Phillies would have had to top a $123 M contract offer from the Nationals?  Who have known that the #2 pitcher on the 2008 championship team (who was actually the ace before the Cole Hamels breakout postseason) would only win 4 more games for the Phils after that and be working on his budding country music career before his 33rd birthday?

Now, to be fair, Ruben did not exactly help the cause, but there were a lot of occurrences – out of his control – that led to this historic fall.  Again, I do not think that Ruben is a good GM – in fact, I think he is pretty bad and should not be the Phillies GM for one more day.  But, I also got bothered by what gets thrown at him.  If you hate Hinkie for never talking or Chip for jettisoning not only D-Jax and Shady, but the Trent Coles and Todd Herremans of the world, then you can’t also rip Ruben for keeping Chase Utley or Ryan Howard too long.  If you hate Ruben’s awful haul when he traded away Cliff Lee (which I do), then you can’t fault him for waiting out a better deal for Hamels.  And, if you are one of these people who think that the Phils should call up their AA starter after 20 professional starts just because you “want to see him pitch” then, as the eloquent Ruben Amaro, Jr., so aptly put it yesterday, “you just don’t get it.”

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The Mariota What-Ifs

No matter how good Nelson Agholor and Eric Rowe turn out to be, the Eagles 2015 draft will always be the “didn’t get Mariota draft.” Now, I am not saying that – historically-speaking – that will always be a bad thing. In fact, we may look back and think, “whew, did we dodge a bullet.” The reported insane package of multiple #1s plus elite-caliber players like Mychal Kendricks and, particularly, Fletcher Cox, that never happened may haunt Tennessee fans down the road a whole lot more than the ghost of Mariota haunts us. However, whether the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner is a boom or bust in Tennessee, we will absolutely never know just what the Chip Kelly-Marcus Mariota marriage would have turned out to be in the NFL. And, by all accounts, we were very close to finding out.

Ahh…what could have been

This happens in sports all the time – particularly in drafts. What if the Phillies took Frank Thomas over Jeff Jackson? What if the Sixers took Paul Pierce over Larry Hughes? What if the Eagles took Earl Thomas instead of Brandon Graham, like everyone thought they were going to? And, while the draft is the most obvious place for this, there are a million others every day in sports. Injuries, play calls, referee decisions, etc. are all easy examples of small occurrences that may lead to monumental events in the sporting world.

But, there is something really interesting about this Mariota-Kelly “what-if” that seems different. Because it was so obvious and because of the potentially historic ramifications, I feel a little robbed, if nothing else, of the immense intrigue that this combination would provide. So, what turned the tide? How did this not happen? There are many factors – obviously – some of which have been talked about ad nauseum, some of which have barely been mentioned, if at all. But, since this seems like an important flagpost moment in Philadelphia sports, I wanted to try and document some of the butterfly wing-flappings that resulted in the hurricane of Mariota ending up a Titan.

Mariota’s Pre-Draft Performance

The bottom line is that, come draft day, the Birds had no chance because the Titans, with the #2-pick, decided that they wanted Mariota to be their quarterback. Whether it was a football decision or an ownership decision (more on that below), they clearly came to that decision late in the process and was almost certainly a result of the pretty incredible performance that Mariota put on – both on the field and in interviews – in the pre-draft process. Teams fell in love with Marcus, himself, and they seemed to see enough about his physical abilities to override the concerns about never taking a ball from center or ever calling a single play in a huddle. When the college football season ended (and meaningful GAMES were finished being played), the experts were united about the football acumen of the two top QBs – Winston was far and away a better on-the-field prospect than Mariota (off-field concerns notwithstanding). But, by the time the draft rolled around, despite no gamefilm being added to either resume, Mariota had earned himself a large portion of the experts’ opinions of who was the best QB on the field. That didn’t exactly help the Eagles chances of either Mariota dropping or Tennessee accepting any deal for him.

Nor did Chip’s incredibly open pining for the guy…

The “Publicness” of the Chase

Personally, I think this is where Chip and the Eagles missed the boat the most. Now, it’s probably unfair to blame Chip for this since the media saw the obvious marriage and would probably have run with it anyway, but I definitely believe that the Eagles could have done a MUCH better job hiding their intentions. Despite never saying anything to the media (which I have no problem with, by the way, but that’s a topic for another post), there was absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Eagles were going all-in for Mariota. They flat-out lost the poker game to Ruston Webster and the Titans front office. While I do believe that all teams do a good job making up their minds in a vacuum, but comments like “this guy’s going to win multiple Super Bowls” probably didn’t hurt the opinion of him in front offices around the league. And, I also think the Eagles refusal to downplay their interest in Mariota also added to the “publicness” of the Bradford camp that they will not sign an extension anywhere else.

So, would you make the case that we should have held on to Mr. Foles?  Many have…

The Nick Foles Trade

This is probably the one that is most cited as a potential factor. Would the Eagles have been able to “sell” Nick Foles to Tennessee or someone else in order to get Tennessee value in return for Mariota? It is at least worth a discussion on whether or not Foles was actually more valuable than Bradford on the open market, even though the Foles for Bradford trade actually required the Eagles ponying up a second-round pick in 2016. But, the clear indication of the Bradford camp that he will not be signing an extension with anyone other than the Eagles potentially made him actually harder to move than Foles would have been. Oh, ya, that and the whole $12.5 million MORE owed to Bradford than Foles. I am not saying that Chip was wrong in making the Foles-for-Bradford trade because I think, given the current situation, I think I am happier having Bradford than Foles right now. What I am saying is that there is a good chance that the trade actually negatively affected the Eagles chances of landing Chip’s dream QB.

Bradford > Foles? On the field – yes. In trade talks – probably not.

Then again, maybe Tennessee just wasn’t willing to fall all the way to #20, and the Eagles had no way to getting anything higher…

Eagles-Giants, Week 17

But, what if they had played Matt Barkley and, inevitably, lost that Week 17 against the hated Giants instead of winning a meaningless game? What if they were 9-7 instead of 10-6? They would have been about four spots higher and picking at #16. It is unlikely that #16 would have carried much more weight than #20 with Tennessee, but what about other teams in the top 10? It was widely reported that many GMs (including Tennessee’s Ruston Webster, who flat-out said it) thought there were only about 15 or 16 players with “first round talent” in this year’s draft. So, going to #20 was seen as a move to the second round, by some. But, #16 would have been a first round pick. Who knows how that would have changed things?

Then again, it’s not like any pick is a sure thing. Just ask the Titans about the last QB they took in the first round…

Jake Locker

Jake freaking Locker may have cost the city of Philadelphia Marcus Mariota. Who would have guessed that? But, if Locker was anywhere near what he was supposed to be, the Titans wouldn’t have any need for a QB (and, realistically, probably wouldn’t have been picking #2 in the draft, either, but that’s another discussion). But, Locker stunk…and then “retired”…even after going 8th in the draft just four years ago. You could even argue that Locker showed just enough potential that the Titans passed on other QBs in more recent drafts because they still thought there was hope for Locker. Admittedly, this argument kind of falls a little short when you examine those drafts. They picked Locker at #8 in 2011. The next two QBs off the board were Blaine Gabbert at #10 and Christian Ponder at #12, so it’s not like they missed the boat in that draft. Then, in 2012 the Titans first pick was WR Kendall Wright at #20. The next QB off the board?  Brandon Weeden. In 2013, they used their first pick on G Chance Warmack.  The next QB that they “missed out on” was E.J. Manuel. And, then last year, the Titans took OT Laylor Lewan at #11. Thirteen picks later was the next QB taken, and his name was Johnny Football, or something like that. So, the argument that Tennessee could have drafted someone else to fill the franchise QB role falls a little flat, but we can still blame Jake freaking Locker’s awfulness for us not having Mariota right now. And, in the end, the Titans entered this year with the #2 pick in a 2-QB draft with Zach Mettenberger at the top of their depth chart.

How did this guy have anything to do with MY football team?

And, possibly, for other non-football reasons, that was a big concern…

Bud Adams’ Health/Succession Planning

While this angle has been incredibly underreported, I am of the firm belief that this is the main reason why the Eagles pro shops are not selling #8 Mariota jerseys right now. I believe that it was a management decision in Nashville to draft a franchise quarterback because they are planning on putting the team up for sale in the next year or so. Bud Adams passed away in 2013 just two months shy of his 91st birthday. Adams, a co-founder of the old AFL, and the longest-tenured NFL owner at the time of his death, left rather sparse directions on who would assume ownership of the Titans, leading to a lot of in-fighting and eventually a consortium being created that consisted of Adams’ two living daughters and the only son of his deceased son. It is one of the more precarious ownership situations in the NFL and will almost certainly lead to some sort of sale or buy-out or legal rangling in the coming years, or even months. And, prior to Thursday night, what could a potential buyer see in this franchise that is of any value? Nothing. It is – almost inarguably – the most boring team in the league in a second-rate media market. While Leonard Williams or Dante Fowler may have made the Titans a better football team in the long-run, they sure as hell were not increasing an asking price in the short-term. Nor was Sam Bradford or Fletcher Cox or Mychal Kendricks or the Eagles 2017 first-round pick. BUT…if they had a young, exciting franchise QB right now, then maybe the value of this team goes up. So, the bottom line is that I think that the management overruled the “football” people and told them to take a QB – period. And, because of that, once it was clear that the Bucs and Titans would be the two teams picking at the top of the draft this year, the fate was sealed.

But, what if that wasn’t the ultimate 2015 draft order…?

The Tiebreaker

Tennessee lost the tiebreaker (strength of schedule) to the Bucs for the #1 pick, and it was awfully close. If a few of those hundreds of other games went the other way, then Tennessee could have taken their franchise QB (Jameis Winston) at #1, and the Eagles could have been dealing with the Bucs instead. Presumably, the Bucs would have just taken Mariota at #2 like the Titans did, but they have a stable ownership group and a coach who has made the Super Bowl with Rex freaking Grossman, so who knows? But, they were both only one game “ahead” of both the Jags and Raiders, who are more than content with their QB situations and clearly would have passed on Mariota at #1 or #2 – or, more likely, taken the king’s ransom that the Eagles were offering.

So, there are any number of games that could have decided this fate – many of which took place in one fateful weekend in December…

Week 16 and The Curse of Jordan Todman

DECEMBER 20, 2014 – The Eagles lost that stomach-punch game against Washington on Saturday night. Not only did it eliminate the Birds from the playoffs, but it gave the Skins (another team who may have passed on Mariota) another W and moved them out of contention for a top-2 pick. But, in the long run, while it cost the Eagles a shot at a 2015 playoff berth, it may not have been the most impactful game that week on the future of our Birds.

DECEMBER 21, 2015 – The Raiders, a team with a decent young QB in place in Derek Carr, beat the Bills for their 3rd win in the past five weeks. They finished the season 3-13 and earned the #4 pick in the draft. But, this team started 0-10. How are they only picking 4th? I firmly believe that if the Raiders held picks #1 or #2, that Marcus Mariota would be an Eagle today. And, this still was not even the most important game of the day for the Eagles future.

DECEMBER 21, 2015 – The Jacksonville Jaguars – the doormat of the league – actually have a QB. #3 overall pick in 2014, Blake Bortles. They have their wagon hitched to Bortles. They have a TON of needs and would be dying for a bowl-them-over package to move down. Well, they had a shot at that in Week 16 last year. Entering the game at 2-12, the Jags got a late incredible TD from Jordan Todman to beat the also 2-12 Tennessee Titans. That “win” by the Jags meant that the Titans would have a top-2 pick and Jacksonville would be picking 3rd. It meant that the 2015 NFL draft would net the Titans Marcus Mariota and the Eagles Nelson Agholor.

How a backup RB ruined my life…

And, it meant that there was no chance for Chip to reunite with his star pupil…in 2015……

Mariota Staying in School

Finally, I have to mention one other thing that is often forgotten in this whole process. Mariota entered the draft this year as a redshirt junior, which means he was eligible for the draft in 2014. And, he actually strongly considered coming out. Now, at the time, it didn’t really hit the radar of the Eagles because their QB had just finished the BEST QUARTERBACK SEASON IN NFL HISTORY, and Mariota had yet to win any Heismans or anything. In fact, before deciding to return to school, Mel Kiper had Mariota at #33 on his “Big Board.” But, do you really think that, even with Foles’ incredible season, that Chip would have passed on a chance to draft Mariota? I sure don’t. So, the Eagles could have just sat at #22, kept their mouths shut, and taken Mariota with their own first round pick last year. And, all it would have cost them was all the air time they will inevitably have to spend explaining the inexplicable Marcus Smith pick. Actually, I wish I had never brought this up…now, I’m depressed again.

…But, It Ain’t Over

In the end, the marriage of Chip and Marcus wasn’t meant to be…yet. Call me crazy, but I still believe that this dream isn’t over quite yet. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not this year or next. But, unless Mariota lights the world on fire in Tennessee, he may be available down the road. And, it’s not like we’re tied to anyone under center…ugh.  In Chip We Trust!

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2014 MLB Awards

NOTE:  This was written and intended to be published at the end of the 2014 MLB regular season, but due to technical difficulties, we couldn’t get it up until now.  But, with the 2015 season upon us, it seems like a good time.

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To get us warmed up, the BBWA has just announced their 2014 MLB Postseason Awards.  And, that’s cute and all, but let us get to the real awards:  the 2014 BSB MLB Awards.  We had an esteemed panel of 7 voters this year, who are very astute and knowledgeable baseball men, vote on 18 different awards.  So, without further ado, let us reveal this year’s winners.

NL MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:  Giancarlo Stanton

In one of the closest votes we have ever had here for the BSB Awards, Giancarlo Stanton edged out Pirates centerfielder, Andrew McCutcheon, by just 2 points.  Those two were the only two that were on all seven ballots, and both received three first-place votes.  In fact, these two were 1-2 on six of the seven ballots.  The only difference was the one ballot that didn’t have them 1-2 had Stanton #2 and McCutcheon #4.  Even though the voting occurred before the postseason started, Buster Posey came in at #3, with the BBWA choice, Clayton Kershaw, finishing 4th (though, he did garner the only 1st-place vote not for one of the top two).

Mike Stanton was pretty good, but Giancarlo is incredible

My ballot had McCutcheon #1 and Stanton #2.  I followed that with a pair of catchers at #3 and #4– Jonathan Lucroy and Buster Posey.  Nationals breakout star, Anthony Rendon, was my #5.  And, I had to add Andrelton Simmons at #6 because he might be the only shortstop that I have ever seen that I would even mention in the same breath as Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Smith, defensively.  I left off Clayton Kershaw because I feel strongly that you have to play more than one-fifth of your team’s games to be considered the “most valuable player in the league.”  Period.  I wasn’t alone on that, as two others also left Kershaw off completely.

  1. Giancarlo Stanton (3) – 66 (7)
  2. Andrew McCutcheon (3) – 64 (7)
  3. Buster Posey – 43 (6)
  4. Clayton Kershaw (1) – 34 (4)
  5. Anthony Rendon – 27 (4)
  6. Jonathan Lucroy – 21 (3)
  7. Yasiel Puig – 7 (1)
  8. Todd Frazier – 6 (1)
  9. Josh Harrison – 6 (1)
  10. Anthony Rizzo – 6 (1)
  11. Andrelton Simmons – 5 (1)

AL MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:  Mike Trout

The best player on the planet fell one point short of a unanimous selection, garnering six 1st-place votes and one 2nd-place vote.  Victor Martinez was a distant 2nd in the voting.  Nelson Cruz finished 4th, but received the only non-Trout 1st-place vote, even though he only appeared on three of the seven ballots.  There were a whole lot of entries here, as 15 different players appeared on at least one ballot, only two of whom made it on more than four.  Yeonis Cespedes received a 5th-place vote for the sheer fact that the A’s were the best team in the league with him and the worst team in the league without him – maybe he is the “most valuable” player.

The pride of Millville, NJ

Trout was, obviously, my pick for this award.  I agree with the final results for 2nd and 3rd, as well, as I had Martinez at #2 and Brantley at #3.  I swayed from the voters after that, going with the always-overlooked, Jose Bautista, at #4, the rookie sensation, Jose Abreu, at #5, followed by the breakout star (offensively and defensively), Josh Donaldson, at #6, and Robinson Cano at #7.

  1. Mike Trout (6) – 69 (7)
  2. Victor Martinez – 52 (6)
  3. Michael Brantley – 31 (4)
  4. Nelson Cruz (1) – 24 (3)
  5. Jose Abreu – 24 (3)
  6. Robinson Cano – 23 (3)
  7. Josh Donaldson – 18 (3)
  8. Felix Hernandez – 11 (2)
  9. Alex Gordon – 8 (1)
  10. Jose Altuve – 7 (1)
  11. Jose Bautista – 7 (1)
  12. Adam Jones – 7 (1)
  13. Nelson Cruz’s Doctors – 7 (1)
  14. Miguel Cabrera – 6 (1)
  15. Yeonis Cespedes – 6 (1)

NL CY YOUNG:  Clayton Kershaw

In a completely unanimous vote, Clayton Kershaw walks away with another Cy Young.  Johnny Cueto, who was the only other pitcher to even appear on every ballot, finished 2nd.  Adam Wainwright was 3rd in a race that was clearly only down to three guys.  In fact, this was the most clear-cut race of all, as the top 5 guys were all on more than half the ballots, and only eight pitchers even received a vote.

The current totle holder of “Best Pitcher on the Planet”

I agree with the top 3, as I went Kershaw, Cueto, Wainwright as #1,2,3.  I considered bumping Wainwright ahead of Cueto, but in the end, Cueto just had a better season.  Madison Bumgarner (for his regular season performance) was 4th for me, as I value innings pitched immensely.  Jordan Zimmermann and Cole Hamels rounded out my ballot.

  1. Clayton Kershaw (7) – 70 (7)
  2. Johnny Cueto – 60 (7)
  3. Adam Wainwright – 51 (6)
  4. Jordan Zimmermann – 30 (5)
  5. Madison Bumgarner – 28 (4)
  6. Zach Greinke – 20 (3)
  7. Cole Hamels – 12 (2)
  8. Doug Fister – 7 (1)

AL CY YOUNG:  Felix Hernandez

BSB disagrees with the BBWA on this one, as King Felix takes home our Cy Young Award in a race that wasn’t really all that close.  The King got five of the seven 1st-place votes and the other two votes were 2nd-place votes.  In fact, BBWA choice, Cory Kluber, barely held off Chris Sale for 2nd place in our vote.  Not that we didn’t recognize the greatness of Kluber, as he, Felix and Sale were all on all seven ballots.  Those three constituted, in some order, the three top spots on all seven ballots.  Down the list, you can see the Bawlmer homerism, as Chris Tillman and Zack Britton both appear on Cy Young ballots.

This guy is either “muscle” for Gus Fring or a future Hall of Famer…hard to tell

Personally, I wanted to vote for Kluber because I really like him and love his stuff, but the season that King Felix put together was just way too good to vote for anyone else.  I tried to talk myself into Kluber, but couldn’t.  I did have Kluber 2nd, ahead of Sale, because of innings pitched.  The top three were obvious.  After that, I had Jon Lester at #4 and the 5’11” Sonny Gray at #5.  I also gave David Price (underrated season) a 6th-place vote and threw a bone to Phil Hughes at #7 for an incredibly under-the-radar season.

  1. Felix Hernandez (5) – 68 (7)
  2. Cory Kluber (1) – 61 (7)
  3. Chris Sale (1) – 60 (7)
  4. Jon Lester – 27 (4)
  5.  Garrett Richards – 20 (3)
  6. Sonny Gray – 13 (2)
  7. Max Scherzer – 12 (2)
  8. Chris Tillman – 6 (1)
  9. Zack Britton – 5 (1)
  10. David Price – 5 (1)
  11. Phil Hughes – 4 (1)

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:  Jacob de Grom

The Mets rookie sensation, Jacob de Grom, burst on the scene this year and takes with him the coveted BSB NL Rookie of the Year award.  de Grom received six of the seven first-place votes.  Billy Hamilton was the only one even close, but he did not get a single first-place vote, as the one ballot on which de Grom was 2nd, he lost out to a rookie broadcaster.  Nice to see Chris Zanzarella – a rookie BSB participant – get a vote, as well as Yours Truly.

This guy? Seriously?

I voted for de Grom at #1, but actually had future Phils closer, Ken Giles, at #2.  I then went with Kyle Hendricks, who may have only started 13 games for the Cubbies, but he was dominant in those 13.  Billy Hamilton and his sub-.300 OBP was 4th, followed by Kolten Wong and Ender Inciarte.

  1. Jacob de Grom (6) – 69 (7)
  2. Billy Hamilton – 60 (6)
  3. Ken Giles – 31 (4)
  4. Kolten Wong – 21 (3)
  5. Kyle Hendricks – 16 (2)
  6. Gregory Polanco – 16 (2)
  7. Ender Inciarte – 11 (2)
  8. Steve Berthiaume (1) – 10 (1)
  9. Chris Zanzarella – 7 (1)
  10. David Buchanan – 6 (1)
  11. Bryan Cimorelli – 6 (1)
  12. Jorge Soler – 6 (1)

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:  Jose Abreu

In the only unanimous vote other than Kershaw, Jose Abreu walks away with the AL Rookie of the Year award without contest.  In fact, his 19-point margin over 2nd-place Masahiro Tanaka was the 2nd-largest margin of victory in any award this year behind only AL Manager of the Year.  After Abreu, it was a slew of hurlers, as 2nd through 6th place were all pitchers.  Tanaka was the only other player to make it to all seven ballots.  Yordani Ventura fell one short, landing on six of the seven.  This was actually a pretty clean election, as there were only 8 players that received votes, seven of whom showing up on at least three ballots.

I’d say he had an “okay” rookie year…

Abreu led my 7-person ballot.  I actually considered going Matt Shoemaker ahead of Abreu, considering he was the ace of the best team in baseball, but Abreu’s numbers were insane.  Shoemaker was my #2 followed by future Astros ace, Colin McHugh, current Yankees ace, Masahiro Tanaka, future Royals ace, Yordani Ventura (who is definitely my favorite rookie to watch), and future Yanks closer, Dellin Betances.  The Twins’ .313-hitter, Danny Santana, rounded out my ballot.

  1. Jose Abreu (7) – 70 (7)
  2. Masahiro Tanaka – 52 (7)
  3. Yordani Ventura – 45 (6)
  4. Colin McHugh – 31 (4)
  5. Dellin Betances – 28 (4)
  6. Matt Shoemaker – 21 (3)
  7. Danny Santana – 17 (3)
  8. George Springer – 8 (1)

NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR:  Clint Hurdle

A pretty hotly contested Manager of the Year race here in the NL ends with Clint Hurdle of the Pirates winning the award thanks to being on five of the seven ballots with three first-place votes (both highs for anyone).  World Champion, Bruce Bochy, finishes second, though Boot made a good point in his ballot as to why he was voting for Bochy (and, this was before the postseason run):  “In 15 years, we will look back at the Giants’ rosters and say Posey is a HOF’er, and that may be it…”  Rookie manager, Matt Williams, finished 3rd followed by Cards 2nd-year man, Mike Matheny.  Interestingly, though there were only 15 NL managers from which to choose, the seven ballots still tabbed four different managers as their top choice.  We also had “negative” votes for Don Mattingly and Kirk Gibson – apparently, they should be 14th and 15th, respectively, in the NL manager pecking order.

I did vote for Hurdle as my #1, but I went Matheny #2.  I originally had Ron Roenicke at #3, but Boot’s comment above swayed me to throw my 3rd-place vote to Bochy.

  1. Clint Hurdle (3) – 23 (5)
  2. Bruce Bochy (2) – 19 (5)
  3. Matt Williams (1) – 16 (4)
  4. Mike Matheny (1) – 12 (3)
  5. Terry Collins – 4 (1)
  6. Don Mattingly – 3 (1)

AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR:  Buck Showalter

BSB agrees with the BBWA here, as Uncle Buck wins this award in a landslide.  Garnering six of the seven 1st-place votes, with the only non-1st as a 2nd-place vote, Buck had, by far, the largest margin of victory here, as his 21-point victory came in an award that only granted 5 points for 1st instead of the usual 10.  Terry Francona finished a distant 2nd with Ned Yost coming in 3rd with the only other 1st-place vote.

Uncle Buck

I went with Buck at #1 and Yost at #2 (even though I don’t really support Neddy’s managing style, you have to hand it to him in accomplishing that much with such sparse resources).  My 3rd choice was Lloyd McClendon, who did a great job out in Seattle this year.  I strongly considered Terry Francona, but I think McClendon had a harder time turning around that franchise, but it is close.

  1. Buck Showalter (6) – 34 (7)
  2. Terry Francona – 13 (4)
  3. Ned Yost (1) – 13 (3)
  4. Lloyd McClendon – 7 (2)
  5. Joe Girardi – 6 (2)
  6. Mike Scioscia – 4 (1)

NL BIGGEST SURPRISE:  Josh Harrison

A BSB category here, as we all voted on who we thought were the biggest surprises of the year in the Senior Circuit.  There are always some interesting answers to this one, and a lot of different choices.  There is no real stated criteria, which makes it fun and interesting.  The Pirates’ Josh Harrison and Nats’ Anthony Rendon both appeared on five of the seven ballots and finished 1-2 here in our voting.  Harrison was the only player to get multiple 1st-place votes, as he received three of them.  Rendon did not have any.  Four others received one 1st-place vote each, including Ryan Howard, who got one for not being “completely finished.”  Doogan pegged Justin Turner in the 5-spot, which forced me to look up his numbers only to learn the kid hit .340 this year with a .404 OBP.  Wow…who knew?!?

The Josh of All Trades

I was the one who voted Jonathan Lucroy at #1, as he became a total star, and I never saw that coming.  Rendon and Harrison followed at #2 and #3 for me.  Corey Dickerson, #4 for me, had a .931 OPS over nearly 500 PAs and seems to be completely anonymous (maybe it’s the Coors factor).  The Mets’ shortstop, Juan Lagares, who came out of nowhere to flash as one of the best defensive SSs in the game (and had a OBP 30 points higher than the esteemed Billy Hamilton), was #5 for me.  Anthony Rizzo, who finally showed his real potential was #6, while Phils surprise, Marlon Byrd, cracked my list at #7.

  1. Josh Harrison (3) – 47 (5)
  2. Anthony Rendon – 41 (5)
  3. Jonathan Lucroy (1) – 31 (4)
  4. Anthony Rizzo (1) – 22 (3)
  5. Devin Mesoraco – 14 (2)
  6. Juan Lagares – 12 (2)
  7. Johnny Cueto (1) – 10 (1)
  8. Ryan Howard (1) – 10 (1)
  9. Marlon Byrd – 9 (2)
  10. Charlie Blackmon – 9 (1)
  11. Lucas Duda – 9 (1)
  12. Matt Kemp – 8 (1)
  13. Ben Revere – 8 (1)
  14. Corey Dickerson – 7 (1)
  15. Tim Hudson – 7 (1)
  16. Tanner Roark – 7 (1)
  17. Denard Span – 7 (1)
  18. Justin Turner – 6 (1)

AL BIGGEST SURPRISE:  Phil Hughes

Do you know that, with 186 strikeouts and only 16 walks in 2014, Phil Hughes set the all-time Major League record for K:BB ratio in a single season?  Ya, me neither.  Well, that sure constitutes a “surprise,” and he won the AL’s Biggest Surprise award here in 2014, grabbing two 1st-place votes and appearing on five ballots.  Cory Kluber (one 1st-place vote) was also on five ballots, while Jose Altuve also garnered a pair of 1st-place votes.  Michael Brantley and Albert Pujols received the other 1st-place votes.

Weird there was a failed Yankees prospect that looked just like him…

Phil Hughes was my runaway pick for this, as I always thought he was terrible, so this year was quite the shock for me.  JD Martinez was my #2 for the importance he provided – out of nowhere – for the Tigers.  A couple of MVP candidates followed with Michael Brantley at #3, Jose Abreu at #4, and Jose Altuve at #5.  Brandon McCarthy was #6 because he looked finished before going to the Yanks.  And, finally, I had Cory Kluber at #7.  He was only so low because I am not that surprised he is this good, I am just surprised he is this good this soon.

  1. Phil Hughes (2) – 39 (5)
  2. Cory Kluber (1) – 36 (5)
  3. Jose Altuve (2) – 32 (4)
  4. Nelson Cruz – 27 (3)
  5. Michael Brantley (1) – 26 (3)
  6. JD Martinez – 22 (3)
  7. Steve Pearce – 17 (2)
  8. Jose Abreu – 15 (2)
  9. Albert Pujols (1) – 10 (1)
  10. Brock Holt – 9 (1)
  11. Matt Shoemaker – 9 (1)
  12. Miguel Cabrera – 8 (1)
  13. Chris Carter – 8 (1)
  14. Derek Jeter – 7 (1)
  15. Carlos Carrasco – 6 (1)
  16. Chris Young – 6 (1)
  17. Brandon McCarthy – 5 (1)

NL BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:  B.J. Upton

In the closest race of all, BJ Upton edges division rival, Dom Brown, for the NL’s biggest disappointment.  It is hard to argue with either, as they were both absolutely dreadful.  The top two were the only two to appear on more than half the ballots, with Upton pacing the field with three 1st-place votes.  Pedro Alvarez edged Jay Bruce for 3rd.  “Beards” got a write-in vote for this category, as Boot feels very disappointed with the abundance of facial hair in the National League these days.  Surprisingly, Ryan Howard was only on one ballot, in 3rd place.  I guess the expectations for him are pretty low these days.  After the top 4, Joey Votto was the only other player to receive a first-place vote.  Interestingly, one of my MVP votes, Andrelton Simmons, received a 3rd-place vote here.  Thoughtful minds really can disagree, though I totally understand the rationale.  Obviously, someone is either a huge Tony Cingrani fan or had him on their fantasy team and felt very let-down.

An all-too-common sight for Braves fans

With a 1-point difference, every ballot with Upton over Brown was the deciding factor, but I definitely played a part here, as I had Upton #1 and Brown #2.  I followed the voters and went Alvarez #3.  I had David Wright #4 because why isn’t this guy a star?  Jonathan Papelbon – for many, many, many reasons – got my 5th-place vote.

  1. BJ Upton (3) – 36 (4)
  2. Dom Brown (1) – 35 (4)
  3. Pedro Alvarez (1) – 27 (3)
  4. Jay Bruce (1) – 26 (3)
  5. Allen Craig – 16 (2)
  6. Curtis Granderson – 14 (2)
  7. David Wright – 14 (2)
  8. Joey Votto (1) – 10 (1)
  9. beards – 9 (1)
  10. Justin Masterson – 9 (1)
  11. Jean Segura – 9 (1)
  12. Ryan Howard – 8 (1)
  13. Andrelton Simmons – 8 (1)
  14. Tony Cingrani – 7 (1)
  15. AJ Burnett – 6 (1)
  16. Shelby Miller – 6 (1)
  17. Jonathan Papelbon – 6 (1)

AL BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:  Chris Davis

I guess a guy who hits 50 HRs one year and then has a sub-.200 average the next can be seen as a bit of a disappointment.  Davis and Myers were the the only two to appear on more than half the ballots, though he they received one first-place vote between them.  Clay Bucholz, who was only on two ballots, got two first-place votes.  Justin Verlander was 3rd on this list.  “Beards” were also a problem in the AL, but only for a 3rd-place vote from Boot.  Instead, the “media” received the 2nd-place vote for endlessly covering the swan song of Derek Jeter, but COMPLETELY ignoring the final year of Paul Konerko’s career (which, by the way, is a FANTASTIC point – Konerko might be the most underappreciated player of our generation).  Justin Masterson – impressively – showed up on the disappointment lists in both leagues.

Are we now expecting our stars to hit at least .200 EVERY year? Seems a bit unreasonable

I was the only one to vote for Evan Longoria, but I had him #1.  What a mediocre year for a guy who should be anything but mediocre.  Verlander was 2nd for me, followed by Xander Boegarts, Wil Myers, and Justin Masterson (who I thought was more disappointing for Cleveland than St. Louis) was 5th.

  1. Chris Davis (1) – 32 (4)
  2. Wil Myers – 30 (4)
  3. Justin Verlander (1) – 28 (3)
  4. Clay Bucholz (2) – 20 (2)
  5. Brian McCann (1) – 19 (2)
  6. Xander Boegarts – 17 (2)
  7. Prince Fielder (1) – 16 (2)
  8. Jim Johnson – 15 (2)
  9. CC Sabathia – 14 (2)
  10. Evan Longoria (1) – 10 (1)
  11. Josh Hamilton – 9 (1)
  12. the media – 9 (1)
  13. beards – 8 (1)
  14. Joe Nathan – 8 (1)
  15. Sin-Soo Choo – 7 (1)
  16. Jason Kipnis – 7 (1)
  17. Justin Masterson – 6 (1)
  18. Mark Teixeira – 6 (1)

NL BIGGEST SURPRISE (team):  Miami Marlins

The Marlins were supposed to be dreadful.  They weren’t.  That was surprising.  They have a stable of young fireballers, so they might be a real handful in the NL East for years to come.  Those pesky Pirates finished right behind the Marlins, followed by the Brewers – all of whom were on 4 ballots.  No other team even cracked more than one ballot.  Apparently, one of our voters is still stuck in 2012, as the Astros received a vote here in the NL. The Giants got a 15th-place “not surprised at all vote” because “they are always good every other year.”

Those 800 fans must be pretty excited

Personally, I thought the Brewers were the most surprising team.  They had a really bad last month and a half, but were the NL’s best team for a long stretch with basically no one.  Not sure if I believe in them going forward, but they had a solid 2014, in my opinion.  I put the Pirates 2nd, as I was impressed by their follow-up season after prosperity.  The Marlins were 3rd for me.  Maybe I just had heard of all these arms and wasn’t shocked by their slightly ahead-of-schedule arrival.  Still a scary team, though.

  1. Marlins (3) – 22 (4)
  2. Pirates (1) – 20 (4)
  3. Brewers (2) – 16 (4)
  4. Astros (1) – 5 (1)
  5. Padres (1) – 5 (1)
  6. Giants – 4 (1)
  7. Nationals – 4 (1)
  8. Rockies – 4 (1)
  9. Mets – 3 (1)
  10. Giants – negative 5 (1)

AL BIGGEST SURPRISE (team):  Kansas City Royals

Even before the thrilling playoff run (as these ballots were cast before the playoffs started), the Royals were the runaway choice for this award, appearing on all seven ballots with five first-place votes.  The Orioles were on six ballots and got the other two 1st-place votes as no other team was even close to these two.

Wait, the Royals did what?!?

I was a part of this belief, as I had the Royals at #1 and the O’s at #2.  My 3rd choice was the Mariners because I just found their contention in a really tough division a little more surprising than some of the other teams around the Junior Circuit.

  1. Royals (5) – 33 (7)
  2. Orioles (2) – 23 (6)
  3. Yankees – 8 (2)
  4. Indians – 7 (2)
  5. Angels – 4 (1)
  6. Mariners – 3 (1)
  7. Red Sox – 3 (1)

NL BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (team):  Atlanta Braves

Picked by many to win the East and most to make the playoffs, the Braves were barely even competitive.  They have a ton of talent, but couldn’t put it together.  It was a bad year in Hotlanta, and I loved it.  They appeared on six of the seven ballots and got two 1st-place votes here.  The Reds actually got three 1st-place votes, but were only on five ballots and finished 2nd.  The Phillies were a distant 3rd (surprisingly, without a single 1st-place vote – kind of shows the lack of expectations for this last-place bunch).  The two other 1st-place votes actually went to my “biggest surprise,” the Brewers, and my pick in this category, the D’backs.

Surprising that the Upton brothers couldn’t pull the team together…

As much as I hate the Braves and love that they won this, I think the absolutely terribleness of the D’backs (a team that some thought might compete) was my biggest disappointment.  I mean, the Braves were at least around .500.  The D’backs were AWFUL.  The Braves got my #2 vote and my Phillies were my #3.

  1. Braves (2) – 26 (6)
  2. Reds (3) – 22 (5)
  3. Phillies – 10 (3)
  4. Brewers (1) – 8 (2)
  5. D’backs (1) – 8 (2)

AL BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (team):  Boston Red Sox

I guess it’s pretty hard to argue when a team wins the World Series one year and is among the worst teams in all of baseball the next that they are the biggest disappointment.  So, it seems like the BSB voters got this one right.  The Sox were on six of the seven ballots with five 1st-place votes.  The Rangers and A’s got the other two 1st-place votes, while the Rays and Yankees were both on more than half of the ballots.  Interestingly, the Yankees were on four ballots for most disappointing and two ballots for biggest surprise.  There is nothing in between when it comes to people’s opinions of the Bombers.

One-Year Grace Period…right, Beantown?

I actually went Rangers here because they were so bad, so fast, that a very promising season was done by May.  The Red Sox were quite disappointing, for sure, and got my 2nd-place vote, though I strongly considered the Rays (my 3rd-place vote) as even more disappointing, for some reason.  It was a strong field for this award this year.

  1. Red Sox (5) – 29 (6)
  2. Rangers (1) – 19 (5)
  3. Rays – 13 (4)
  4. A’s (1) – 8 (2)
  5. Yankees – 4 (4)
  6. Blue Jays – 4 (1)

MLB BRIGHTEST FUTURE:  Los Angeles Dodgers

This category was defined as the team that will have the most WS titles between 2015 and 2035.  The Dodgers barely edged the terrible 2014 Red Sox.  The terrible 2014 Cubs finished 3rd..  The Cardinals were the only team to get more than one 1st-place vote, as they appeared on two ballots, but were #1 on both of them.  In general, the voting was all over the place here.  This was a very interesting category.  And, despite the polarized feeling about the Yankees, they were only on one ballot and were 4th place on that ballot.

Money can’t buy you…ah, never mind

I was one of the two people to vote for the Cardinals.  They are the best-run franchise in baseball (and maybe all of sports).  They build from within, know when to walk away, but aren’t afraid of paying what it takes to keep/acquire the right player.  They just do it right, and I don’t see why that would change, particularly as they play in a division without a lot of big-spenders or well-run organizations.  I had to go with the Dodgers 2nd just because of the enormous bankroll they seem to have.  The Angels were my 3rd pick because of the money they throw around.  The Giants – the 2nd-best run organization in the sport – got my 4th-place vote.  I did throw in the Red Sox and Cubs at the end of my ballot because they both have a ton of money and ELITE farm systems.

  1. Dodgers (1) – 32 (4)
  2. Red Sox (1) – 31 (4)
  3. Cubs – 27 (4)
  4. Nationals (1) – 25 (3)
  5. Cardinals (2) – 20 (2)
  6. Royals – 17 (2)
  7. Astros (1) – 16 (2)
  8. Angels – 16 (2)
  9. Giants – 14 (2)
  10. Orioles (1) – 10 (1)
  11. Indians – 8 (1)
  12. Twins – 8 (1)
  13. Mariners – 7 (1)
  14. Yankees – 7 (1)
  15. Mets – 6 (1)
  16. White Sox – 6 (1)

MLB BIGGEST REBUILD:  Arizona Diamondbacks

The final category was defined as “the team that will go the longest without its next World Series title.”  This was also a very interesting category.  It drew a lot fewer responses than the brightest future and the top was more closely packed together.  In fact, the D’backs edged the Phillies by a single point, even though the Phightins were the only team with more than one 1st-place vote.  The Twins, White Sox, and Yankees were the only three teams to appear on both lists.

It might be a long, hard climb, Boot

My ballot here started with the Rays.  I think they had their shot and now they will drift back into being the worst franchise in baseball.  They have no money, and they lost their front office braintrust.  It was fun, but it’s over.  The Rockies were my second choice because I do not think they are bright enough to overcome the challenge of building a winner in that cartoon ballpark.  The Padres won’t win because they’re cheap, so they got my 3rd-place vote.  The Brewers are also somewhat cheap and poorly run, so they were 4th for me.  And, the D’backs got my 5th-place vote because I just don’t see their plan.

  1. D’backs (1) – 30 (5)
  2. Phillies (2) – 29 (3)
  3. White Sox – 27 (4)
  4. Padres (1) – 27 (3)
  5. Twins – 23 (3)
  6. Blue Jays – 22 (3)
  7. Brewers – 22 (3)
  8. Yankees (1) – 19 (2)
  9. Rangers (1) – 16 (2)
  10. Rays (1) – 16 (2)
  11. Rockies – 9 (1)
Posted in MLB | 3 Comments

Super Bowl Thoughts – Coming… (tech difficulties)

Posted in NFL | 1 Comment

Eagles First Quarter Grades

Well, we are ¼ of the way through the Eagles season with the Birds sitting at 3-1.  Honestly, if you offered me 3-1 through these 4 games, I would have signed for it rather readily.  But, I certainly would not have anticipated the route they have traveled to arrive there.  And, there has to be a part of every Eagles fan that knows that 4-0 was 54 inches away.  All that said, there have been some very good performances so far (and some not so good ones).  So, at the quarterpole, it’s time to give out the First Quarter Grades for each of our guys in green.

Most of the grade is based strictly on my opinion of each player’s performance to date, but there is probably a subconscious “curve” going on here, as I am sure my opinion is at least partially affected by my expectations and what is asked of each player.  For instance, Brad Smith is going to get a higher grade than Riley Cooper, but that does not at all mean that I think Smith should be ahead of Cooper on the depth chart.  I just believe that based on what was expected and what is asked of each player, Smith has delivered more than Cooper.  If their expectations and roles were switched, the grades would be very different.

Anyway, on to the grades…

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Nick Foles – C+
The first grade handed out was one of the hardest to give.  What can you say about a guy that has thrown for a ton of yards and leads an offense that has scored the 3rd most points in the league through 4 weeks.  However, he has looked shaky – including a clunker in San Fran.  Now, some of that has to do with the makeshift O-line, so I gave him a bit of a break there, but a completion percentage below 60% is not good and some of the misses have been big misses.  In the end, the guy has still led 3 late comeback wins and was 54 inches from 4-for-4 on Sunday.  We are going to need much better QB play, for sure, but Foles hasn’t been as terrible as our favorite Chicken Littles may want you to believe.

Running Backs

LeSean McCoy – D
The O-line can only go so far as an excuse for flat-out POOR play from the “best RB on the planet.”  To me, he looks hurt.  He was always so good at making the first guy miss, so the bad offensive line shouldn’t be hurting him as much as it would some other backs.  Also, he has really struggled in pass protection, which has always been a real strength of his game.  My big fear:  Shady has always been great about understanding when to get out of bounds and not chance another hit.  But, with his immense frustration right now could cause him to take push for extra yardage and get himself hurt.  For better or worse, the Birds will be riding Shady as far as he can take them, and he must be healthy for any of these high aspirations to see the light of day.

Darren Sproles – A+
For the past 5-6 years, my favorite non-Eagle has been Darren Sproles.  Now, he’s an Eagle, and he has been everything I dreamed he could be.  The only knock against him is that he has disappeared a bit on offense the past two weeks, but I blame the o-line and gameplan for that more than Sproles himself.  And, in San Fran, he showed that you don’t have gameplan him in to get impact, as he took a punt return to the house.  This guy is amazing.

Chris Polk – C-
“The most important ability is availability.”  Or, as Doogan always says, “health is a skill.”  Polk needs to be healthy.  We could use his change of pace going forward.  But, he has been banged up and unready to play.  His grade is only saved by that huge kick return against Washington.  Other than that, I have been very disappointed that he has not put himself in position to contribute more.

Wide Receivers

Jeremy Maclin – A-
After two games, I was very concerned about the wideouts in general.  But, the past two weeks completely eliminated my concern about our #1.  Maclin seems to be getting comfortable on his knee and is poised to potentially become an elite receiver in this league.  He has been making tough catches and shown that he can take the top off of the defense the way DeSean used to do.  He’s currently 5th in the NFL in receiving yards and poor deep throws by his QB has cost him at least 2 or 3 more big plays or he might be #1.

Riley Cooper – F
As good as Maclin has been, Cooper has been worse.  Honestly, there is no one on this roster in whom I have been more disappointed than Mr. Cooper.  And, I am not trying to pile on here or play hyperbole.  He has been dreadful.  There have been two touchdowns – including on in the Niners game that could have completely changed that game – that were flat-out dropped.  He is not getting open, and he is not making plays.  Remind me again why we think he’s good?  He has been a borderline #4 wideout for all but 10 game s in his career – those 10 games just happened to be the last 10 of 2013.  But, shouldn’t we think that that was the fluke and not the entire rest of his career?  I am very concerned about the #2 wideout position right now.

Jordan Matthews – B+
Matthews has been very good in the slot.  He is still making his way as a rookie WR.  This grade is definitely on a curve because I do not think he has made all that much of an impact, but that is more because (a) he hasn’t gotten the chances (I am hoping that will change going forward) and (b) he is a rookie WR.  Rookie WRs rarely produce right away, but Matthews looks like the exception so far.  I am not ready to say he can be a productive outside receiver yet, but with the struggles of Cooper, we may find out sooner than we otherwise should.

Brad Smith – C+
He hasn’t been asked to do much, but he has been okay when in there.  I still like his versatility and think he is a lot more valuable to this team than he may appear on the surface (not to mention his special teams contributions).

Jeff Maehl – D-
I have no idea why he continues to make this roster.  Is there no one out there that would be an upgrade here?  Honestly…

Tight Ends

Zach Ertz – A-
I know he had a rough homecoming in San Fran, but I am not letting that overshadow what he has meant to this offense in their 3 wins.  There is a real chance that Ertz becomes the backbone of the passing attack for years to come.  He is a special player, who is just about to break out.  His pass-catching ability and perfect fit for this offense even allows me to overlook the fact that he is not a very good blocker at this point in his career.  He is improving in that area, though, and is good enough to keep the defense honest.  This guy is a budding superstar.

Brent Celek – B+
A B+ for a guy with 3 catches in 4 games?  Yes.  First of all, Celek has turned himself into an outstanding blocking tight end.  And, regardless of the numbers, he still has to be respected as a pass-catcher by the defense, which makes him invaluable.  He is not just a blocker when in the game – and, like Maclin, his numbers could look a lot better if the QB had connected on a couple of deep balls.  Celek is still an important piece to this offense and, given the o-line struggles, has done all he can this year to lend a hand.

James Casey – D+
The first Chip Kelly free agent signing has been really disappointing for a year and a half now.  I know he made a huge catch to seal the game against Washington, but that is his only catch this year, and he has shown to not be the blocker we thought he was.  The guy we thought we were getting would fit rather nicely in this offense.  Unfortunately, we never got that guy.  I hope you all enjoyed the James Casey Era because it’s just about over in Philly.

Offensive Line

Jason Peters – A-
There are some “experts” who believe that Peters looks like he has taken a step backwards this year.  I am not sure I agree.  Yes, there haven’t been a ton of those plays where you watch and say “how does a guy that big do THAT?!?”  But, I think that is more because end-runs by McCoy and the bubble screens by the WRs haven’t been as prevalent this year.  To be honest, for a guy like Peters, who has always jumped off the screen because of his incredible plays, to be the steady, consistent guiding force of a beat-up, inexperienced offensive line shows a real maturity and progression to his game.  It is hard to fault the one guy in his rightful position that is seemingly holding this o-line together.

Todd Herremans – B
The point about Peters being the steady force guiding this makeshift line is the reason I gave Herremans such a high grade.  He has not exactly been that great this year, but he has been at least adequate at multiple positions with changing guys all around him.  O-lines crave consistency and familiarity, so for Herremans to play different positions with different guys just about every week and still be rather effective is an indication of how much of a pro he is.

Jason Kelce – B
Before he got hurt, Kelce had an A+. I think he had become the best center in the NFL – and BY FAR the best center for this offense.  Unfortunately, he’s on the shelf.  This offense NEEDS its center.

All Other O-Linemen – C-
I was going to go through them individually, but it is just not worth it because of the lack of time and such.  Andrew Gardner has seen the most action of the “second stringers” and has not been terrible.  David Molk was barely serviceable (and that’s actually generous) as Kelce’s replacement in San Fran.  Dennis Kelly has been okay, but has clearly shown why he is a 6th lineman in this league.  Allen Barbre barely saw the field before being placed on IR.  Same for Evan Mathis, though he’s due back (thank god – because he’s irreplaceable).  And, then there’s Matt Tobin.  The coaching staff loves this guy, and he has all the tools to really make an impact in this offense.  But, he was absolutely DREADFUL in San Fran on Sunday.  Just awful.  It looks like he is going to get another chance even with Lane Johnson coming back, but he can’t give the same performance this week or he might not ever get a third chance.

DEFENSE

D-Linemen

Fletcher Cox – A-
I have been driving the Fletcher Cox bandwagon since he was drafted and have finally been vindicated this year.  Cox has been sensational.  The only reason the grade isn’t higher is because I want to see more sacks on the stat sheet.  But, he has brought some pressure and, more importantly, has been incredible against the run.  He is playing at a borderline All-Pro level and is going to be a stalwart on this defense for years to come.

Cedric Thornton – A
The higher grade does not mean he has outplayed Cox – it’s just been that, compared to expectations, the undrafted free agent, Thornton, may be the most underrated player on this Eagles roster.  Week in and week out, he just puts out stellar performances – taking on blockers, setting an edge, and creating havoc in the middle of the o-lines.  This defense is still built around strength up front, which makes Thornton one of the most important players in green every single week.

Bennie Logan – B
I am going more with what I read and hear than what I see on Logan.  People that know more than me seem to think he has been playing outstanding football in the middle.  Personally, I haven’t seen a lot that has jumped out at me.  But, having only closely watched a 3-4 defense for 21 games now, I fully admit that I might not fully understand the nuances of nose tackle.  Either way, there is no doubt that Logan has filled a very important need in this defense, as he appears to be a certifiable NFL nose – and those are hard to come by.

Vinny Curry – D+
This might be unfair because I am tired of the hype around a guy that is clearly lost against the run.  I was always able to put up with the lack of run stopping ability when he was getting to the QB, but he hasn’t really been doing that either this year.  I love the hometown kid, who grew up dreaming of playing for the Eagles, but I won’t be heartbroken when he’s let go this offseason.  (That said, it wouldn’t shock me in the least if he is the next Derek Burgess and has 17 sacks in Oakland next year or something like that).

Beau Allen – C-
He doesn’t seem to cause much havoc when he’s in there – and it’s hard to miss him with that ridiculous hair.

Brandon Bair – C+
I would be lying if I said that I have noticed all that much of Bair either way.  He seems to be decent on special teams, despite not being the type of guy who plays much “teams.”

Linebackers

DeMeco Ryans – A
It is not necessarily the overall playmaking of Ryans that got him an A in the first quarter.  It is the fact that he is the undisputed leader of this defense and, at 30 years old, has played every single snap (at a grueling position) for a team that leads the league in defensive snaps.  And, this will be the second straight year that he leads the league in snaps played on defense.  If you value “steady’ (which I value VERY HIGHLY), then you love DeMeco Ryans.

Connor Barwin – A-
Am I too high on a defense that has stuggled at times this year?  Just wait…  Anyway, Connor Barwin has been outstanding all year.  I wish he would start putting sacks up on the board, but he is so good at deflecting passes and sniffing out play calls, that it is hard to hold that against him right now.  This has been a very underrated signing for this team, as Barwin comes to play every week – no bells, no whistles – just hard-nosed linebacking.  I love that.

Trent Cole – C-
I hate to pour dirt on one of the best Eagles in a generation, but we need to be honest here.  If Cole isn’t putting up monster sack numbers at OLB, then he is probably really hurting your defense.  He will always be a liability in coverage (through no real fault of his own, considering he lived on this Earth for 30 years without EVER being asked to cover anyone), but so are Clay Matthews and DeMarcus Ware.  Well, Trent Cole is not causing nearly enough pressure to make up for his lack of coverage skills.  They are stuck with him now because Marcus Smith clearly isn’t ready and Brandon Graham is just a younger, not as good version of Cole (more on these two in a minute), but one of my favorite all-time Eagles is a real liability for the 2014 team.  Shh – let’s keep that rather quiet, though, out of respect for an all-time great.

Brandon Graham – B-
I don’t think Graham will ever be an upgrade to Cole, but at least, when given the chance, he is getting to the QB.  There is no doubt the guy is a bust for where they took him, but at this point in his career, I think he is valuable, and I am glad that no one panicked and cut him loose this offseason.  We will see if he earned himself another contract (probably not), but for now, I am glad to have him.

Mychal Kendricks – A-
This would have been an A+ if he were healthy.  But, he is not.  That said, if Kendricks can at all replicate the first 2.5 games he was out there in the final 12, this defense might actually be one day considered rather good.  It is nice to see a young LB turning in to a star right before our eyes, though.  Get back on the field, Mychal.

Emmanuel Acho – C
I wish he didn’t have to play at all…ever.  But, he hasn’t been terrible.  The Najeh Goode injury looks really big now, as Goode would have been a nice fill-in for Kendricks.  Acho has shown something on special teams, as well, so he has been okay.  It is just a shame that it is such a huge step down from Kendricks to the Acho/Matthews combination.

Casey Matthews – D-
He stinks.  I just hope that this Casey Matthews Experiment ends this year.  Please…

Marcus Smith – D+
He hasn’t gotten a chance to play, but that doesn’t mean that that isn’t his fault.  And, just because the team reached for him as a first-round pick doesn’t excuse the fact that he can’t get on the field.  Someone else would have taken him in the 1st or early 2nd.  I know that he is a bit of a project, and we should wait to fully evaluate the Smith selection, but it is really tough to swallow when your 1st-round pick can’t get on the field (I can’t tell you my reaction every time I see Darqueze Denard make another play for Cincinnati).  All in all, though, I like the fact that he was able to move to ILB in one week and not look totally lost – a little anxious, maybe, but not lost.  Oh well, I guess we should just look at Jordan Matthews as the #1 and Smith as a work-in-process #2.

Cornerbacks

Cary Williams – C-
I have always been a Williams defender.  I actually like his attitude.  I think the “F you” attitude is needed in today’s NFL – particularly at CB.  However, when the “F you” is turned inside (more specifically, at the coach) then you’ve lost me.  But, beside the stupid comment about practice tiring him out (even though he missed that whole week of practice), Williams has not been very good on the field.  In his defense, he is not really a #1 corner.  In NOT his defense, he is paid like one.  I may have actually been kind with this grade.

Bradley Fletcher – D
This season has been a nightmare for Fletcher in coverage.  I considered a flat-out F, but I do like his tackling ability.  And, after years of Asante Samuel and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, I do have a soft spot for corners that are willing to tackle.  Unfortunately, he is paid to cover receivers, and he just can’t do that right now.

Brandon Boykin – B+
I am not jumping on this “Boykin needs to play outside right now” bandwagon.  BUT…I am DEFINITELY on the “Boykin needs to play more snaps” bandwagon.  I don’t care how you get him in the game, but this guy needs to be on the field.  I am not sure he’s a superstar in the making, but I am sure that he has done just about everything he can in his limited action.

Nolan Carroll III – C+
Carroll hasn’t seen much of the field, either, but I kind of put some of that blame on him.  The coaching staff has never said that Carroll isn’t an outside CB, so if they saw anything in practice, they might replace Fletcher on the outside.  So, while the limited action I have seen has been positive with Carroll, I have to believe that he has been less than impressive in practice or he would be on the outside.  Or…maybe that change is coming.

Safeties

Malcolm Jenkins – A
Hard to say anything negative about Malcolm Jenkins.  He has been everything we could have hoped for.  He has come up with timely interceptions (including that return TD for an offense that probably wouldn’t have scored there based on how they were moving the ball).  He has done exactly what they said he would do when they signed him – bring versatility.  He can cover man-to-man, play the single high, or come into the box in run defense.  In fact, that last point is the one that has been most impressive to me.  I didn’t realize he was such a sound tackler.  Jenkins has been terrific.

Nate Allen – D+
I have held out on saying this because I still thought there was hope for Nate Allen.  But, you know what?  I am officially DONE with Allen.  He blows coverages (and not just the obvious one against D-Jax) and gets manhandled at the line of scrimmage.  And, for a free safety, he takes the worst angles I have ever seen.  It is like he thinks he like 10% faster than he actually is…and, bad angles is not exactly a good trait for the last line of defense.  I’m ready to move on.

Earl Wolff – C
I like Wolff.  I know that he is a bit undisciplined, but he hits people, and he is really aggressive going for the ball in the air.  I don’t think he’s ready to replace Allen midseason, but if I were planning the personnel, I would be looking for Wolff to be the starting FS in 2015.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Bryan Braman/Chris Maragos – A+
The biggest improvement for the Eagles from Chip Kelly, Year 1 to Chip Kelly, Year 2 has been – without a doubt – the kick coverage teams.  A lot has to do with the kicker and punter (more on that below), but I think the complete overhaul, which was led by the free agent signings of Braman and Maragos – among others.

Cody Parkey – A
I could have knocked him for the short miss in the Indy game, but he came back and made the game-winner.  And, while the two 51-yarders are nice, the reason I gave Parkey an A is because the Eagles touchback percentage has gone from 40% in 2013 to 60% in 2014.  That 60% is 15th in the league, but doesn’t take into account the fact that 3 of the 4 games were at the Linc or San Fran – two difficult places to kick for distance.  Parkey is booming the ball – and that is a welcome change.

Donnie Jones – B+
This might be a little unfair because he has been really good again this year (particularly in hangtime and placement).  I guess I just downgraded him a bit because he hasn’t been quite as incredible as he was last year (when he was sensational).  Still it is such a luxury to have such a steady, solid, smart punter.

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8 Biggest Takeaways of the Birds 2-0 Start

So, here we are through two rather interesting games of the Eagles season, and the Birds sit at 2-0, including a shaky home win against a really bad team and an impressive road win over a pretty good team.  It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you get there, but let’s take a look at what we have seen so far in these 120 minutes of game action.  Here are my biggest takeaways through the first two games:

1). Nick Foles looks shaky
I know, it is strange for the #1 takeaway for a 2-0 team to be a negative one.  It is even stranger for that negative to be about the QB who is 2nd in the league in passing yards and is in charge of the league’s highest scoring offense.  I have come around and am officially a “Foles guy” now, but we have to be honest – he looks a bit shaky.  The first half against Jacksonville was abysmal, and the first half against Indy wasn’t all that much better.  He has missed open receivers and has misthrown several short passes and bubble screens.  While he did rally both times and showed some real resiliency, he does not seem to have the same poise and accuracy that he had last year.  But, let’s remember, it’s early.  They’re 2-0.  And, they lead the league in points scored, so we will take 19 of those “shaky” games if they turn out the same result.  I am actually encouraged by the fact that both Foles and McCoy have been relatively quiet and they have 64 points and 2 wins in two games.

2). The two guys picked ahead of Foles look FANTASTIC
Foles – the 3rd-round pick – may be the most nationally well-known Eagle drafted in the 2012 draft, but the two guys the Eagles drafted before their franchise QB have are on the brink of legit stardom – and they are both on the other side of the ball.  Mychal Kendricks has shown flashes of brilliance in each of his first two seasons in the NFL, but he was annoyingly (at least to me) inconsistent.  This year, he looks like a total stud across the board.  Now, we don’t really know the extent of the calf injury he suffered Monday night, but before he left, he had put in 7 incredible quarters of football in 2014 – making plays all over the field.  He can cover tight ends and even some slot receivers when needed, but he can also get to the QB and is a killer against the run.  Now, I haven’t been as high on him as most in his first 2 years, but right now, he looks like the centerpiece of a potentially outstanding defense for the next decade.

The other budding superstar is a guy that I have actually been higher on than most since being drafted #11 overall in 2012 – Fletcher Cox.  I know that he didn’t exactly “pop” in either of his first two years, but it is happening now right before our eyes.  He still leaves a little to be desired in his ability to get to the QB (which is always going to make the casual observer mark him down a peg), but his ability to set the edge in the run game and pursue ballcarries (or scrambling QBs) is incredible.  And, I think that his lack of consistent QB pressure has more to do with the fact that he is still learning the ins and outs of the 3-4 (he is much more natural in the 4-3).  This year, however, he is starting to eat up multiple blockers in the pass game, which will, hopefully, lead to more QB pressure across the defense.  Either way, Fletcher Cox is becoming a real star in this league and, along with Kendricks, the ridiculously underrated Connor Barwin and the ever-steady Demeco Ryans, could be the centerpiece of a defense that has actually looked very, very good through two games.

3).They do miss D-Jax…schematically…but are a significantly better football team without him
This is no real surprise, as he is a dynamic playmaker who makes a lot of things happen even when he doesn’t get the ball.   All his big plays aside, maybe the true value of DeSean Jackson on the field was the impact he had on everyone else in the passing game.  Countless D-coordinators have said, flat-out, that they used to completely tailor their defensive gameplans around containing DeSean.  Safeties would always have to cheat his way, and the #1 corners that “travelled” would always find their way to his side.  Without him out there, the safeties are more free to roam in pass coverage and help in the run game.

HOWEVER…while Chip & Co. are too classy to come out and say it, I think that the team is much better because he is gone.  If you ever get a chance to hear guys like Adam Caplan talk about it (and, very few know more about the inner workings of the Eagles than Caplan), the real problem with Jackson came down to attitude.  Now, that seems like an obvious comment, but Caplan puts a different spin on it and provides stark examples.  Caplan talks about how Chip Kelly had decided midway through last season that they were going to move on without Jackson because he was holding back a lot of what they wanted to do around there.  It wasn’t the gang ties; it wasn’t the cursing out of the coaching staff; it wasn’t even his stark refusal to buy-in to the smoothies and sleep monitors.  It was simple – the thing that Kelly’s offense gets the most press for is its tempo.  And, Jackson was slowing them down.  That tempo doesn’t just come from “hurrying up” on Sunday afternoon when you have the ball.  That tempo comes from intricate practice schemes, where the players practice over and over getting tackled, jumping up, throwing the ball to the ref, and running back to the line.  Jackson never wanted to do that – particularly in practice.  Kelly believes (according to Caplan) that Jackson’s refusal to take this uptempo style at practices (and oftentimes games) seriously enough slowed the whole team down.  So, he cut him.  And, the tempo is soaring through two games and is possibly the reason that this team is the only team in NFL history to be 2-0 after trailing both games by 14+ points in the second half.

4). Practice matters
With today’s CBA, practice times have been slashed.  Coaches have less ability to mold their players the way they want.  But, the Eagles and Genius Kelly have found a way to combat this.  While practice “time” is regulated, there is no restriction, obviously, on practice “reps.”  And, by all accounts, Chip Kelly’s practices are the most efficient practices this sport has ever seen.  Dick Vermeil estimated that Kelly gets 3x as many reps in any given 2-hour practice than Vermeil’s teams ever did.  And, what does this do?  Well, for one, it allows Chip’s teams to get more work on their gameplans than anyone else in the league, but, secondly – and maybe more telling so far – is that it makes the Eagles the most well-conditioned team in the league.  You look around the league in these two weeks, and you will see an avalanche of games that turned drastically in the second halves.  Both Eagles wins, the Bears on Sunday night, the Patriots loss in Week One, the Browns nearly winning two games after bad first halves, etc., etc., etc.  Early in the season, conditioning matters at the end of games, particularly in the heat.  Late in the season, it matters in keeping guys healthy (the Eagles were the healthiest team in the league in Chip’s first year).  This stuff matters – and that is why this coach makes more of a difference on his team than any coach I have ever followed closely.

5). These WRs are not very good
I know we are only two games into his shiny new contract, but Riley Cooper looks like he is straight stealing $25 million out there.  He is not getting open and not making plays.  He looks like the lost, mediocre receiver that he was his entire career other than the second half of 2013.  Why do we think that he “figured something out” again?

Jeremy Maclin looks a little better, but he does not look anything close to a #1 receiver right now – nor does it look like he ever will be, to be honest.  He has good speed, but nothing game-changing, and he has a willingness to go get the tough catch, but I am not sure he has the ability.  I said it all offseason, they should have given Houston a 2nd-rounder for Andre Johnson – and, I really value high draft picks and do not value WRs on the wrong side of 30 – I just think that was the last piece of this offensive puzzle.  But, again, this is the top-scoring team in the NFL, so who’s complaining.

6). That “silent killer” is gone this year
People talk about return and coverage production as “hidden yardage.”  Well, does anyone notice how much better the special teams’ coverage is this year than last?  The front office made significant free agent investments in Bryan Braman and Chris Maragos as well as personnel decisions seemingly driven completely by coverage ability.  And, through two games, it seems to have paid off.  And, by “paid off” I mean that I have not noticed the coverage teams…at all.  Coverage teams are like referees or offensive linemen – typically, the more you notice them, the worse they are.  Just think back to last year and just how hair-pullingly frustrating the coverage teams (and lack of touchbacks, by the way) were.  You don’t have that same feeling this year, do you?  Ya, me neither…and, I like it.

7). How can we go this far without mentioning…?
Darren Sproles and Zach Ertz!  No, seriously, how amazingly do these two fit into this offense?  The personnel matchups are so hard to defend.  Such versatility combined with brilliant play design means that, short of playing nickel or dime packages, it is almost impossible to avoid having LBs covering either Ertz or Sproles or both – and that is the perfect recipe for big play after big play.  And, the more that Ertz and Sproles dominate games this way, the more teams will have to go into sub-packages meaning LeSean McCoy may be running into nickel and dime packages…yes, please.  This offesnse is just going to get harder and harder to defend as it goes.

8). And, the heartbeat of this offense continues
All of these great matchups and brilliant play design is great and all, but this offense (and most offenses) begins and ends up front.  Jason Peters continues to be one of the best tackles of this generation, and certainly the best left tackle in football right now.  Now, I am no expert on O-line play, but I believe you would be hard-pressed to find a center better in the league than Jason Kelce.  And, there are a lot of people who believe that Evan Mathis is the best guard in the league.  That means that when (if) Mathis comes back, 3/5 of this line will be the best in the league at their position.  Throw in the solid veteran of Herremans and an athletic Top-4 pick in Lane Johnson (who will be back Week 5), and you have an ELITE offensive line – probably the best in the game – which is enabling all of that magic to happen around them.  And, I can’t wait for the next act…

Posted in NFL | 2 Comments

Better Call Stri: The Ray Rice Fiasco Response

Those are really good questions. I agree that we can quickly rule out the theory that Goodell saw the tape and is just bald faced lying about it. If he saw the tape, he isn’t the only one who knows he saw the tape, and if it came out that he was lying about that he could kiss his job goodbye. So, that leads us to your question of why didn’t Goodell see the tape?

It wasn’t that the NFL couldn’t get the tape (it was briefly available online). It wasn’t that Goodell (or anyone else) wanted plausible deniability. Plain and simple, it was arrogance.

The day after the NFL suspended Ray Rice for 2 games, ESPN published an article about the suspension. ELEVEN paragraphs down in the article was this little tidbit: “Rice allegedly struck Palmer unconscious on Feb. 15 while in a casino elevator in Atlantic City. Video surfaced online showing Rice dragging an apparently unconscious Palmer out of the elevator. The couple has since married.”

So, you’re Roger Goodell, master of the universe, commissioner of the NFL, $44 million dollar man, highly experienced in these types of discipline issues, with a bevy of the smartest lawyers, advisors, and PR people at your disposal. You know: (i) Rice struck Palmer, (ii) the blow was allegedly so severe that it struck Palmer unconscious, (iii) he dragged her unconscious body out of the elevator, and (iv) the couple has since married. This has been widely reported by reliable sources. You have interviewed Ray Rice, who has ADMITTED to this exact series of events. Don’t you have enough information at this point to decide what the discipline will be? I mean, we’re not solving the Kennedy assassination here. There aren’t conflicting accounts to sort through. Do you have to actually witness his hand making contact with her head to figure out how many games he gets for knocking his wife unconscious?

Besides, if there were anything on that tape that dramatically changed the analysis, surely it would have come out by now. The alleged incident happened Feb. 15. The discipline happened July 24. It was well know what the admitted to facts were for almost 6 months. The damn video was briefly posted ONLINE. No protests, no boycotts, no letters from the national organization of women, no mass press coverage. Compare that to Michael Vick and Donald Sterling. DAYS after those allegations surfaced, the internet blew up. These were major, major, major stories, almost instantaneously. Roger Goodell is a prudent guy — he waited through six months of near silence (compared to Sterling and Vick anyway) before issuing the discipline…this was yesterday’s news.

The 2 game ban is issued on July 24 and ESPN reports in the story announcing the freaking bad (in paragraph 11) that he knocked his wife unconscious in an elevator. The response? Virtually crickets. No protests, no boycotts, no NOW letters. No cuts by the Ravens. At worst, the reaction was mild condemnation of the penalty as too light. But not even the critics were suggesting an indefinite ban.

Goodell didn’t see the video, because he didn’t need to see the video. He had all the facts he needed to have, and he had waited ample time to gauge public opinion.

So why was the punishment so light? Here is the dirty little secret we just uncovered: Absent a obvious risk to the image (and, thus, bottom line of the league), the powers that be in the NFL think that knocking your fiancé unconscious in an elevator really deserves a two game ban. If Roger Goodell and the rest of the entire world HAD seen the video in February, and there was no public uproar about it by July 23, Ray Rice would have been banned 2 games on July 24. It wasn’t that Goodell got the suspension wrong because he didn’t see the video. He got the suspension wrong because he didn’t anticipate that the video could (or would) change public opinion so completely.

Logically, this all kind of makes sense. I admit to burning down your house in open court. You agree that’s what I did. Does the jury need to see a video of me lighting the match and actually placing it on your house to sentence me? Intellectually, you want to say no. But then you see the video and maybe I’m stumbling around drunk when I do it. Or maybe I’m stone cold sober and laughing like a maniac. Well, now it matters. A lot. Who knew?

Ray Rice got off with a light 2 game ban because that is what Goodell and the rest of the NFL bigwigs thought that his conduct deserved, given all the factors (including public reaction and damage to the NFL’s brand) that existed on July 23. Then, public reaction shifted dramatically, and now they say they “got it wrong” because they “didn’t see the tape.” So they do a 180 and give the customers what they want. Because nobody ever got rich actually telling the American public that they’re wrong. Not seeing a tape is just a fig leaf they’re using. Because “we didn’t give a crap, tape or no tape, until the public freaked” may be true, but it isn’t the PR message you want to be sending out right now.

The stark and sobering reality is that Goodell seeing that tape before issuing the first suspension wouldn’t have made one whit of difference. The only thing that would have changed anything is if the mass public saw — and reacted — before the first suspension came down.

Two other quick points. First, I do think that it mattered greatly that Janay forgave him and married him. To quote Paul George, Goodell was (at least partially) thinking: “I don’t condone hitting women or think it’s cool, but if she ain’t trippin then I ain’t trippin.”

Second, I’ve done my share of internal investigations. They’re not easy. They’re constantly evolving and they never quite end up where you think they will. That’s why these leagues sometimes hire serious people: $2500 lawyers, former U.S. attorneys, former director of the fbi, to conduct the investigations. You’re absolutely right that the cardinal rules are: get out in front of the controversy and get ALL the information. But those two things ALWAYS conflict. Getting out in front requires you to move fast. Getting all the information requires you to move slow, to subpoena video tapes, to fight out those subpoenas in court if need be. Sometimes you can’t do both.

Goodell’s primary sin wasn’t failing to watch the video tape (although that certainly was A sin). His primary sin was thinking that a 2 game ban was appropriate for a player knocking out his fiancé in an elevator. Some of the most damaging scandals occur when you get caught saying something you really believe.

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Better Call Stri: The Ray Rice Fiasco

Have a legal question?  Better call Stri.

And, sports these days are full of legal questions.  It’s a good thing we now have one of the best legal minds on the payroll here at BSB.  So, here’s the first installment of “Better Call Stri,”  where try and get some insight into the legal rationale of some of these crazy off-the-field sports stories that seem to be coming up at a ridiculous rate these days (I “blame” social media and the 24-hour news cycle, but we can blame them for everything, right?)

Anyway, this whole Ray Rice thing has been run into the ground, so I will save any soapboxing or pointless self-aggrandizing comments like “where I come from, we don’t hit our women” or “my parents raised me to treat all people with respect.”  Those serve no purpose in useful conversations other than to waste time with the obvious.

No, what I am fascinated by – and want to get Stri’s legal opinion on – is just how could the most powerful sports league in the nation (if not the world) screw this up so badly?

To me, there are two key aspects of this story – (1) why did Goodell come down on Rice so lightly in the first place, and (2) why is he now claiming not to have seen the tape?

So, counselor, mind if we start with the second one first because this is the part that I honestly cannot even wrap my head around?

First, let us establish some givens before we embark here.  One, let us assume that Roger Goodell – for whatever you think of him – is a highly intelligent man or, at the VERY least is surrounded by highly intelligent people.  Two, let us also assume that his $44 million annual salary does actually ensure that everything he does is keeping the best interests of the league (and by “league,” I simply mean its 32 owners) paramount.  So, why would he say he didn’t see the tape?

Can we first dismiss out of hand that he saw it and is now lying about it?  That would be inanely stupid, and if that is the case, then it is not worth talking about anything else because we are just dealing with flat stupidity.  There is no way he would think he could get away with a bald-faced lie of that caliber.

So, now we are working under the assumption that he actually did not see a tape of which he admits to having knowledge at the time of his ill-fated decision to suspend Rice for 2 games.  Why didn’t he see the tape?  Are we really to believe that he – and all the power/money that his league wields – was simply unable to get his hands on it?  We know that the casino had it.  We know that the police had it.  We know that Rice (or, at least his lawyers) had it.  And, we know that it only took TMZ less than a month to get it.  So, can we really believe that they COULD NOT get it?  At the very least, they could have said to Rice, “you are suspended until you show us the tape and then we will decide on when to reinstate you.”

So, the only next logical step is that they CHOSE not to view the tape.  This is the part that I really need some input here, Stri.  Why would they choose not to see it?  They know it is out there.  They probably know that it is going to come out.  And, they know that their level of punishment will be – fairly or unfairly – judged based almost exclusively on the level of emotional reaction that this tape will stir up in the general public.  So, why not?

The only logical conclusion I can come up with here is plausible deniability.  Am I right here, counselor?  Did Goodell decide that he wanted plausible deniability about the contents of the tape before taking action on the suspension.  And, if so, why?

That “why” is the perfect segue into the first question posed at the beginning here – Why did Goodell come down so lightly on Ray Rice in the first place – tape or no tape?  Why did the guy who has legitimately earned a reputation of unwavering commitment to “law and order,” to the point of nearly alienating his entire labor force, now come down so SOFT on a player?!?  Who is Ray Rice and why is Goodell picking Rice as the one for whom he risks it all?  Why is he so hellbent on giving Rice a punishment that is, AT BEST, on the LIGHTEST possible side of defensible and, at worst, a conscious slap in the face to all those affected and/or appalled by domestic violence in any form?  Why is this so important to him to let Rice off easy that he had to go out of his way to attain plausible deniability of a potential “smoking gun?”

Stri, any ideas?

Did they think that they could get away with letting the facts come out, weighing public opinion, and then thinking they could just alter their course to maintain alignment with public sentiment?  The “new” policy on domestic violence may be evidence of this way of thinking – along with the indefinite suspension of Rice after the tape riled up such an incredible reaction.

Did Goodell, a strong family man, just get swayed by the pleadings of a victim – a wife – to not be punished more by taking away her livelihood?  Did he believe that her husband had never done it before and would certainly never do it again.  Or, did he just find a soft spot for a “first-time offender,” who was, by all accounts, a pillar in the community (which seemed definitely to be true to me, living here during his entire career) and his pleading wife?  Was this punishment just a lenient judgment from a bleeding-hearted family man?  While it sound unlikely that this is the case, I guess it is not out of the realm of possibility that Goodell simply felt bad that this happened, saw it as a heat-of-the-moment mistake by an otherwise good man.  BUT… even if Goodell was swayed by the soon-to-be Mrs. Rice and her “first-time-offender” of a husband, doesn’t he have advisors?  Isn’t he surrounded be a swath of people whose only job is to “protect the shield,” particularly from negative publicity?  Where were they?

Or, maybe we should get all “conspiracy theory” here and say that this all had to do with Jim Irsay.  Maybe Goodell wanted to go light on Irsay, but did not want to risk total mutiny by continuing to levy harsh penalties to players, while not doing the same to those who pay his salary?  So, he let Rice of light, thought it would blow over before he gave Irsay a slightly harsher punishment (though much lighter than he probably deserves), and that’s that.

Or, is it something else that I have not even thought of?

Either way, there is not a reason that I can think of that could possibly explain the fact that this very savvy and experienced public leader broke the ultimate tenets of restoring and retaining public image:  (a) get out in front of a controversy and, going hand-in-hand with that, (b) always make sure that you have ALL the information.  Right?  What am I missing here, esteemed gentleman of the law?

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